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

Natural Science Event Bulletin, vol. 2, no. 11 (November 1977)
Managing Editor: David Squires.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Ash eruptions continue during November

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1977. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (Squires, D., ed.). Natural Science Event Bulletin, 2:11. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.NSEB197711-241040.

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 2,000-m brown ash cloud was observed over White Island on 7 November and eruption of additional ash was reported the next morning. An aerial inspection on 10 November revealed a white 600-m non-convoluting steam column emerging from a new fumarole in the N wall of Christmas Crater. Strong steaming, depositing sublimates, continued from several fumaroles.

White Island was visited on 20 November. Poorly sorted accessory ash and lapilli SE of Christmas Crater reached a maximum thickness of 330 mm above the 25 August deposits. A tongue of debris flow tephra, including blocks up to 1.6 m in diameter, extended 400 m SE from Christmas Crater. Base surge dunes were observed N of Christmas Crater.

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: E. Lloyd, NZGS, Rotorua.