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

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 13, no. 3 (March 1988)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Blocks and scoria bombs; incandescent fumarole

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1988. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 13:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198803-241040.

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)


White Island's intermittent eruptions have continued, becoming slightly larger with an increasing magmatic component. Vigorous activity and sizeable eruption columns were reported [14 March at about 1615]; 29 March at 1640; 1 April at 0830 and 1100; and on 2 April through 1025 (when a column reached ~1,800 m altitude) before declining (to 640 m altitude by 1600).

Geologists briefly visited the island on 4 April [see also 13:4]. A weak steam plume that contained a little ash was emerging from the recent eruption (Hitchhiker) vent. New lithic lapilli and a few scoriaceous bomb fragments were scattered around the rim of South Crater, 700 m from Hitchhiker vent. Impact craters to 30 cm in diameter that contained dense lithic blocks were found at the base of the South Crater wall. Tephra deposited since 25 March was similar to earlier ejecta but contained a considerably greater proportion of highly vesiculated glassy scoria. High-pressure gas was emerging through two brightly incandescent openings from Fumarole 6, in the easternmost of three 1980 craters ~200 m E of Hitchhiker vent. The fumarole's cherry red glow suggested that its temperature exceeded 900°C. Temperatures of 541 and 655°C had been measured at the fumarole on 10 February and 12 March; it had not been incandescent on 25 March. Minor inflation measured in the area during a 10 February survey contrasted with the deflation that characterized the rest of the main crater floor.

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.