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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — January 1983

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 8, no. 1 (January 1983)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Abrupt deflation

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1983. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 8:1. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198301-241040.

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Whakaari/White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 294 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


Field work by NZGS personnel 7 January revealed no evidence of eruptive activity since their previous visit on 15 November. Only minor changes were observed in 1978 Crater. Temperatures were measured at three fumaroles. At vents E and NE of Donald Mound temperatures were 620°C and 630°C, 60-65°C lower than on 8 October. W of Donald Mound, a vent formed in 1980 had a temperature of 556°C, 86°C warmer than in October.

The center of the deflating area, near the E edge of 1978 Crater in November, had deepened and moved E several hundred meters to the Donald Mound area, which had been inflating from mid-1981 until November 1982. A site on the E side of the Mound area had subsided 16 mm since November. A nearby tiltmeter measured deflation of 50 µrad 8 October-15 November, and 170 additional µrad by 7 January (figure 8).

The inflation in the Donald Mound area had been interpreted by the NZGS as a possible precursor of minor eruptive activity, as in May 1980 when three new vents formed between there and the 1978 Crater. But the inflation rate was only 1/3 that of 1980, and the recent abrupt deflation is now thought to be the end of the 15-month inflationary episode.

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; P. Otway, NZGS, Wairakei.