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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — October 1998

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 23, no. 10 (October 1998)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Minor gas-and-ash eruptions in August and October

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1998. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 23:10. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199810-241040.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


Whakaari/White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 294 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


A minor eruption at White Island in August (BGVN 23:08), which was investigated by volcanologists from the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (IGNS), persisted until late in September. Analysis of samples collected during the visits continued through September. Eruptive activity recommenced in late October, prompting another investigative visit on 2 November. The following reports is summarized from IGNS Science Alert Bulletins.

A new active vent in the NW corner of the 1978-1990 Crater Complex produced intermittent weak ash emissions during late August and early September that rose 100-1,500 m above the island. September ash contained more fresh volcanic glass than previous samples, but this failed to give clear indication of new magma being the source because the eruptions came from a crusted-over magma body.

Weak volcanic tremor on 10-11 September appeared on seismic records and impacted estimates of the Real-Time Seismic Amplitude (RSAM). The RSAM outputs a number of 'counts' over set time intervals. The higher the counts the stronger the volcanic tremor signal and the stronger the volcanic activity. The RSAM count level in mid-September was about 12-13, on a scale of several thousand, having risen from the typical background of 2-3 counts. There were no reports of ash after 18 September and seismicity was reduced to background levels. The Alert Level was reduced from 2 to 1 on 29 September.

Minor eruptive activity recommenced on 24 October. Small amounts of ash were emitted on 24-25 October, and on 31 October a steam-and-ash column rose in calm conditions to 1,500-1,600 m above the volcano. Weak volcanic tremor reappeared at about the same time as the ash eruptions recommenced; however seismicity remained low.

A surveillance visit was made on 2 November to assess the activity, conduct a deformation survey, and collect ash and gas samples. The level of activity varied during this visit, but the most energetic activity observed was not sufficient to raise the Alert Level. The active vent at the base of the NW wall of the 1978-1990 crater had grown slightly since August. A very weak ash-charged reddish-gray convecting plume was emitted. Occasional yellowish hues were present in the plume, consistent with the periodic eruption of hydrothermal sulfur from the vent. The maximum temperature measured in the ash column was 451°C.

Eruptive activity over previous days had deposited 15 mm of fine dark gray ash at the crater rim. Examination of the ash indicated no change in character from that of the July-August eruptions. Ground-deformation surveys showed a consistent trend of minor deflation across the main crater floor, with the largest changes (20-30 mm) near the crater rim. However, fumarole temperatures had increased nominally since August 31. Fumarole ##1 was at 113°C (up from 101°C), was moderately dry, and had molten sulfur in the orifice (indicating temperatures in excess of 119°C in the vent). Donald Mound continued to discharge only low-pressure steam from diffuse areas of steaming ground, and the cracks around Peg M continued to discharge steam close to the boiling point. Maximum temperature at Noisy Nellie was 140°C (up from 126°C), whereas pressures were similar to those observed in August. Fumarole 13a was 111°C, a slight increase from August (105°C). The plume from the island appeared to carry a heavier SO2 burden than observed in August.

The uninhabited 2 x 2.4 km White Island is the emergent summit of a 16 x 18 km submarine volcano. The island consists of two overlapping stratovolcanoes; the summit crater appears to be breached to the SE because the shoreline corresponds to the level of several notches in the SE crater wall. Intermittent steam and tephra eruptions have occurred throughout the short historical period, but its activity also forms a prominent part of Maori legends.

Geologic Background. The uninhabited Whakaari/White Island is the 2 x 2.4 km emergent summit of a 16 x 18 km submarine volcano in the Bay of Plenty about 50 km offshore of North Island. The island consists of two overlapping andesitic-to-dacitic stratovolcanoes. The SE side of the crater is open at sea level, with the recent activity centered about 1 km from the shore close to the rear crater wall. Volckner Rocks, sea stacks that are remnants of a lava dome, lie 5 km NW. Descriptions of volcanism since 1826 have included intermittent moderate phreatic, phreatomagmatic, and Strombolian eruptions; activity there also forms a prominent part of Maori legends. The formation of many new vents during the 19th and 20th centuries caused rapid changes in crater floor topography. Collapse of the crater wall in 1914 produced a debris avalanche that buried buildings and workers at a sulfur-mining project. Explosive activity in December 2019 took place while tourists were present, resulting in many fatalities. The official government name Whakaari/White Island is a combination of the full Maori name of Te Puia o Whakaari ("The Dramatic Volcano") and White Island (referencing the constant steam plume) given by Captain James Cook in 1769.

Information Contacts: B.J. Scott, Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (IGNS), Private Bag 2000, Wairakei, New Zealand.