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

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 4, no. 11 (November 1979)
Managing Editor: David Squires.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Mild fume 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, 4:11. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN197911-241040.

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 overflown 25 October, about a month after the previous aerial inspection. A weakly convoluting pink fume cloud rose to about 500 m from the eruption vent in 1978 Crater, and moderate steam emission occurred from fumaroles elsewhere in the main crater. Brown ash mantled the main crater floor, and a few blocks and apparent impact craters were visible near 1978 Crater.

Seismic activity between 28 September and 25 October typically consisted of intermittent to semicontinuous bursts of high-frequency tremor, with few quiet periods. Strong local earthquakes were rare.

Further Reference. Houghton, B.F., Scott, B.J., Nairn, I.A., and Wood, C.P., 1983, Cyclic Variation in Eruption Products, White Island Volcano, New Zealand, 1976-1979; New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics, v. 26, p. 213-216.

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, NZGS, Rotorua.