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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — February 1988

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 13, no. 2 (February 1988)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Minor tephra emission and seismicity

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1988. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 13:2. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198802-241040.

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)


Eruptive activity has declined since 1987, accompanied by continuing deflation of the main crater floor. When geologists visited the volcano on 10 February, the small vent that had formed on the W edge of the 1978 Crater floor in November was not active. Gas and a little ash were being emitted at low pressure from Hitchhiker vent. At a site 350 m SE of the vent, 32-38 mm of new tephra had accumulated since 14 January and 310 mm since 30 October 1987. A few small bombs, probably ejected within the previous few days, were found 100 m SE of the vent; the bombs and associated ash were similar to those found on 14 January and 30 October. Temperatures at fumaroles SE and E of the vent (Donald Mound and Blue Duck areas) had increased in the past year, to a maximum measured value of 541°C, but had declined NE of the vent (Noisy Nellie area). Seismicity since 14 January has been characterized by sub-continuous volcanic tremor of low amplitude and medium-low frequency. E-type (eruption) volcanic earthquakes were recorded on 18 January at 1714, 19 January at 1209, and 21 January at 1713.

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.