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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — April 1977

Natural Science Event Bulletin, vol. 2, no. 4 (April 1977)
Managing Editor: David Squires.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Ash eruptions continuing in late March-early April

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1977. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (Squires, D., ed.). Natural Science Event Bulletin, 2:4. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.NSEB197704-241040.

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)


White Island was inspected from the air on 25 March and 14 April, and visited on 4 April. On 25 March, a tan gas and ash cloud with an orange base was emitted from the vent, which had migrated from the wall to the N base of Christmas Crater, allowing access to the vent by runoff water for the first time. A glow had been observed during an 11 March overflight, but could not be confirmed on 25 March because of the large quantity of gas filling the crater. Many impact craters and large b1ocks, not present on 11 March, were seen S and E of Christmas Crater and on the floor of 1933 Crater, indicating that a major explosion had taken place between 11 and 25 March.

Observers reported a deep red glow above White Island during the night of 26 March, and clouds, frequently blackish, rising to 2000 m on 26-27 March.

On 4 April, a voluminous, moderately convoluting cloud of incandescent ash was rising to 600 m in brief puffs, and drifting to the SE. A comparison of 25 March airphotos with 4 April ground observations indicated that there had been no eruption of large ejecta since 25 March. The largest blocks from the 11-25 March eruption were composed of accidential material, but most of the tephra consisted of scoriaceous-essential lava ranging in size from ash, to blocks and bombs up to several m across. The 11-25 March eruption was the largest 20th-century explosion at White Island and the first to produce essential ejecta, but no eyewitness reports of a large eruption have been received. [A careful search by J.H. Latter of the records of regional seismic stations failed to detect any earthquakes at White Island during this period.]

By the 14 April overflight, activity had declined to low-volume emission of a dark fawn-colored, slowly convoluting steam cloud, containing a little ash. There was no evidence of major explosive activity postdating the 11-25 March eruption. A linear fumarole zone had developed, extending from the N end of Wilson Bay across the W end of Shark Bay to the crater wall.

Further Reference. Clark, R.H., Cole, J.W., Nairn, I.A., and Wood, C.P., 1979, Magmatic Eruption of White Island Volcano, New Zealand, December 1976-April 1977; New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics, v. 22, no. 2, p. 175-190.

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: I. Nairn and B. Scott, NZGS, Rotorua; J. Latter, DSIR, Wellington; R. Clark, Victoria Univ., Wellington.