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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — February 1980

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 5, no. 2 (February 1980)
Managing Editor: David Squires.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Fresh ash and impact craters

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1980. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (Squires, D., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 5:2. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198002-241040.

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 press reported that an eruption occurred during the late afternoon of 6 February. Records telemetered by the White Island seismograph showed a substantial increase in seismicity during the preceding week. Shortly after 1648 on the 6th, the seismograph recorded a high-amplitude, high-frequency event lasting about 3 minutes.

Personnel from the NZGS and Victoria Univ. flew over White Island on 7 February. A 500-m steam column emerged from deep within the active vent of 1978 Crater. Other fumarolic activity was at its weakest level since the eruption began. Extensive erosion, caused by heavy rainfall in mid-January, could be seen on the main crater floor. No fresh tephra was visible.

A second overflight on 25 February revealed fresh, pale brown ash mantling the main crater. Impact craters to about 1 m in diameter reached an estimated density of 1 per 10 m2 at the E and SE rim of 1978 Crater, and could be seen, at reduced density, to ~200 m from the rim. Activity from 1978 Crater was similar to that observed on 7 February. High pressure fumarolic emission had begun at two sites on the main crater floor, but remained weak elsewhere.

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. Houghton and E. Lloyd, NZGS, Rotorua.