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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — April 1979

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 4, no. 4 (April 1979)
Managing Editor: David Squires.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Continued ash emission

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1979. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (Squires, D., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 4:4. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN197904-241040.

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)


The morning of 12 April, a light tan, mildly convoluting eruption column rose from a deep vent in the floor of 1978 Crater. The column reached an altitude of about 500 m before drifting E and producing a fine ash fallout. No fresh impact craters or blocks were observed near the 1978 Crater rim, but brown ash covered the main crater floor. Strong vapor emission also occurred from a fumarole E of 1978 Crater. Almost continuous medium- to high-frequency tremor, had persisted for the past several weeks.

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. Scott, NZGS, Rotorua.