Logo link to homepage

Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — February 1986

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 11, no. 2 (February 1986)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) New active vent produces tephra

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1986. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 11:2. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198602-241040.

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)


Minor magmatic eruptive activity resumed ... about 1 February from a new vent within the 1978 Crater complex. On 3 February helicopter pilot Ian Johnson observed a new active vent and associated tephra fall.

About 15 low-frequency B-type earthquakes/day occurred from December into February with unusually large (50 mm p-p) amplitudes, although a gradual decline in amplitudes was apparent. Significant periods of volcanic tremor were recorded in January (11, 19, 20-21, 25-29) and February (1-5) but no vent-forming episode could be clearly recognized.

When geologists visited the volcano 10 February, there was a new vent ~ 25 m in diameter near the base of the E crater wall, farther E than any vent of the 1976-82 eruption sequence. The vent emitted vapor at a moderate rate and a small amount of very fine ash was occasionally present in the gas plume.

A fresh layer of ash, 10-15 mm thick, was on the main crater floor to 150-200 m E of the new vent and a small ejecta apron extended 30-50 m W of the vent. Small scoria bombs were sparsely scattered on the surface within 50 m of the new vent. Bombs were rarely larger than 100 mm in diameter. One had clearly flattened on impact, indicating it was still soft when it fell. The scoria is fresh, dark brown, vesiculated glassy andesite with phenocrysts of plagioclase and pyroxene. Recently deposited tephra comprise reworked crater-fill detritus, some fresh crystals, and brown glass.

Fumarole temperatures of 350-360°C were measured on 10 February, 25° cooler than on 13 November (10:11) and 15-25° cooler than on 7 February. COSPEC measurements on 7 February showed an SO2 emission rate of 570 t/d, a substantial increase over the 320 t/d detected on 21 November 1984 and 350 t/d recorded on 7 January 1985.

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: New Zealand Geological Survey (NZGS); P. Kyle, New Mexico Inst of Mining & Technology.