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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — November 1985

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 10, no. 11 (November 1985)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Fumarole temperatures drop; magnetic anomaly

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1985. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 10:11. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198511-241040.

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)


When geologists visited White Island on 13 November, there was no evidence that any eruptive activity had occurred since their visit on 21 May. Deflation of the Donald Mound area, roughly 100 m E of the 1978 Crater, continued. The area of subsidence was a NW-SE ellipsoid about 400 m long by 250 m wide, centered on Donald Mound. One station had dropped 112 mm since a small ash eruption in February 1984; stations immediately W of the area, which had dropped 15-25 mm May 1984-May 1985, had fully recovered by the November visit.

Magnetic data showed a small but high-amplitude anomaly centered N of Donald Mound, suggesting to geologists that substantial near-surface cooling had occurred in the area since the May magnetic survey. At one vent, fumarole temperatures had declined to 390°C from 523° in May. No low-frequency (B-type) events were recorded from February until late September, when they resumed following a M 7 event, 350-400 km NE of White Island. Since 25 October, 6-35 low-frequency events have occurred per day, with unusually large amplitudes (up to 50 mm peak to peak). The number of high-frequency (volcano-tectonic) earthquakes remained relatively constant in 1985, with 3-5 recorded on most days.

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, A. Cody, B. Scott, C. Wood, and W. Davis, NZGS, Rotorua; P. Otway, NZGS, Wairakei; D. Christoffel and E. Hardy, Victoria Univ. Wellington; W. Giggenbach, DSIR, Wellington.