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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — April 1987

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 12, no. 4 (April 1987)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Continued ash emission

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1987. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 12:4. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198704-241040.

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)


Intermittent ash eruptions have continued since 28 March fieldwork, although no significant change has occurred in vent morphology or crater floor conditions.

On 7 April at 1544, geologists visiting the island observed an ash column that rose >1.0 km and sent warm ash W of the crater. The gas/ash plume was jetted horizontally under high pressure from the active vent (Hitchhiker) in Congress Crater; bright incandescence was visible for 10-20 m. A low-frequency vibration accompanied the eruption. Small slabs of hydrothermally altered sediments (2-5 cm) were deposited within 100 m of the vent. A deformation survey conducted during the 7 April visit found 21 mm of uplift just E of the crater (in the Donald Mound area). Fumarole temperatures had not changed significantly and new ejecta remained lithic-dominated. Total ash accumulation since 25 January 1987 was 43 cm on the E rim of the 1978 Crater complex and 80 cm on the NE rim. Ash thickness decreased rapidly away from the rim.

Low-frequency (B-type) volcanic earthquakes numbered 13-33/day 28 March-13 April, while high-frequency (A-type) events remained rare. Levels of seismic activity were similar to those of 1986. Eruption (E-type) earthquakes were recorded on 1, 7, and 10 April. The 10 April event was the largest, with a maximum tremor amplitude of 15 mm and a duration of about 10 minutes.

A minor eruption was reported on 13 April by observers ... at Whakatane and Opotiki. A vertical steam column rose 1.5-3 km above the island and at least one discrete pulse of ash-laden steam was reported to "flow" laterally away from the eruption column over the sea. When geologists visited the crater on 15 April very little fresh tephra had accumulated on the main crater floor. The vent was more or less continuously emitting high-pressure gas with minor ash, and surging cauliflower clouds climbed the crater wall. Incandescence was seen intermittently during a period of poor visibility.

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 and C. Wood, NZGS Rotorua.