Report on Monowai (New Zealand) — November 2003

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 28, no. 11 (November 2003)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke.

Monowai (New Zealand) Eleven earthquake and T-wave swarms during April-November

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2003. Report on Monowai (New Zealand). In: Venzke, E (ed.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 28:11. Smithsonian Institution.

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New Zealand

25.887°S, 177.188°W; summit elev. -132 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Monowai is a frequently active submarine volcano that has had volcanic earthquake swarms recorded in May 2002 (BGVN 27:05), November 2002 (BGVN 28:02), and April-May 2003 (BGVN 28:05). Monowai exhibited increased activity for the first 11 months of 2003, during which more than 1,300 events were detected and located by the French Polynesian seismic network via hydro-acoustic waves (also called T-waves) generated by this submarine volcano. Each volcanic eruption, creating explosions and boiling water, generates hydro-acoustic waves that are able to propagate several thousands of kilometers through the ocean in a wave guide (a low velocity zone located at ~1,000 m depth called the SOFAR—Sound Fixing and Ranging—channel). Consequently, a major part of the volcanic activity can be monitored at great distances in the oceans (> 3,000 km) using the T-waves. The amplitudes of T-waves correlate with the strength or intensity of the eruptions.

Activity at Monowai during 2003 has been much greater than in 2002. From April through November 2003, 11 swarms have been detected (figure 14); about one swarm was detected every two weeks except in the months of June and September, when no T-waves were detected from Monowai. A volcanic swarm started suddenly on 10 April 2003 with an average rate of about 50-60 events per day (figure 15). The activity seemed to decrease smoothly in 2003 compared to abrupt halts in activity in 2002.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 14. Amplitudes of T-waves from Monowai recorded at the TVO station on Tahiti during 1 April through early November 2003. Courtesy of Laboratoire de Geophysique, Tahiti.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 15. Number of daily seismic events at Monowai recorded by the Polynesian seismic network, RSP (Réseau Sismique Polynésien) during 5 April through early November 2003. These numbers are probably largely underestimated. Courtesy of Laboratoire de Geophysique, Tahiti.

The observed swarms are composed of a lot of events over at least 30 minutes containing many tens of signals, producing a quasi-continuous and fluctuating noise. However, these types of signals are detected across the entire seismic network. If a particular wave (a maximum amplitude, or the beginning of a wave) visible in all the seismic records is selected, it is possible to locate the source by the inversion of the travel time. Sometimes strong amplitudes are recorded that can be correlated with the strength of the volcanic explosion.

Geologic Background. Monowai, also known as Orion seamount, rises to within 100 m of the sea surface about halfway between the Kermadec and Tonga island groups. The volcano lies at the southern end of the Tonga Ridge and is slightly offset from the Kermadec volcanoes. Small parasitic cones occur on the N and W flanks of the basaltic submarine volcano, which rises from a depth of about 1500 m and was named for one of the New Zealand Navy bathymetric survey ships that documented its morphology. A large 8.5 x 11 km wide submarine caldera with a depth of more than 1500 m lies to the NNE. Numerous eruptions from Monowai have been detected from submarine acoustic signals since it was first recognized as a volcano in 1977. A shoal that had been reported in 1944 may have been a pumice raft or water disturbance due to degassing. Surface observations have included water discoloration, vigorous gas bubbling, and areas of upwelling water, sometimes accompanied by rumbling noises.

Information Contacts: Dominique Reymond and Olivier Hyvernaud, Laboratoire de Geophysique, CEA/DASE/LDG Tahiti, P.O. Box 640, Papeete, French Polynesia (Email:,