Logo link to homepage

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

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 5, no. 8 (August 1980)
Managing Editor: David Squires.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Ash eruption

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1980. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (Squires, D., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 5:8. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198008-241040.

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)


On 19 July, residents of Whakatane observed a black ash column that rose about 3 km above the volcano. However, a 28 July NZGS overflight found it little changed from 13 June. The island was covered by red-gray ash, deeply gullied in places on the crater floor. Partly eroded impact craters extended up to 200 m from the SE rim of 1978 Crater. The latter was hidden by voluminous clouds of white steam and gas while the recently formed subsidiary gas vents to the E (05:02) were obscured by vapor from adjacent fumaroles. Other fumarolic activity farther to the N appeared to have declined since the previous inspection. The sea immediately off the NW coast was colored white, probably due to suspension of sulphur (and other precipitates from underwater hot springs; 5:05).

Seismicity during July was characterized by relatively low tremor levels and occasional earthquakes, some of low frequency (B-type). Periods of high-amplitude, high-frequency tremor were recorded 11-16 July. Some larger, high-frequency, probably A-type or regional earthquakes were recorded on 27 July. The seismograph was not operational during the 19 July eruption.

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.