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

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 4, no. 7 (July 1979)
Managing Editor: David Squires.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Explosion produces red ash

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1979. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (Squires, D., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 4:7. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN197907-241040.

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)


B. Adams reported a dark, pulsating tephra column that rose intermittently from White Island to about 1 km altitude. He first observed the eruption at about 0800 on 13 July from 50 km to the SSE. Ash appeared to be falling downwind from the vent. A white plume had been present over White Island for the previous several weeks.

NZGS personnel overflew the volcano on 16 July. An eruption cloud containing red ash emerged from the active vent in the SE section of 1978 crater, reaching about 600 m altitude before being blown N by a moderate wind. Much of White Island was covered by red ash, which was thick enough near the vent to cover the bombs ejected in April and May (04:5-6). No fresh impact craters were observed. Vigorous fumarolic activity continued at several sites within the main 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.