Logo link to homepage

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

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 12, no. 11 (November 1987)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Ash emission continues; new vent

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1987. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 12:11. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198711-241040.

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 emission continued in November and small eruption earthquakes were recorded on 31 October, and 8, 11(?), 15, 16, and 20 November. An eruption was observed at the time of the 31 October earthquake from Ohope (50 km S) and Matata (>55 km SW) at about 0810. A fast-rising "billowing" black column emerged to replace the usual white steam column and rose to >2,500 m. Ash fallout occurred N of the island.

During a 30 October inspection by geologists, minor to moderate ash emission was continuous and incandescent ash emerged at low pressure and without noise from Hitchhiker Vent in Congress Crater (on the E side of 1978 Crater). Since 7 September, 230 mm of fresh tephra had accumulated on the rim of 1978 Crater. Block ejecta consisted of altered country rock and smaller tephra were lithic-dominated with no fresh scoria component noted. Temperatures at sites ~120 m W of 1978 Crater (on Donald Mound) had continued to increase and generally ranged between 550 and 650°C.

Deflation continued near Congress Crater, with only a slight possible rise at the E end of Donald Mound, formerly an area of rapid inflation. Large changes had occurred in magnetic values since the last survey 11 June. Measurements indicated deep-seated (>700 m depth) heating below Donald Mound and in the areas N and S. A strong shallow (on the order of 100-200 m deep) heating center was found below the W edge. A general cooling was recorded over the remainder of the crater. A new small vent on the W edge of 1978 Crater floor was first sighted during a visit on 20 November, emitting a brown plume with fine ash. The 5-m-diameter vent had not been present on 15 October aerial photos nor was it noted during the 30 October visit. Hitchhiker Vent was emitting a light brown ash plume in semicontinuous pulses. Only a few meters of ash and a few new blocks (>0.2 m) had fallen on 1978 Crater rim since 30 October.

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; J. Cole, Victoria Univ, Wellington.