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

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 13, no. 7 (July 1988)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Continued ash ejections, fumaroles cool

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1988. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 13:7. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198807-241040.

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)


Since the last visit ... on 15 June, ash ejections have continued but no major block/bomb-ejecting eruptions have occurred. Explosions on 23 June at 0710 and 19 July at 1507 produced eruption columns to 3,000 m. The June eruption was observed from an airplane and the July eruption was observed from the Bay of Plenty Coast ....

On 19 July, various areas along the crater rim were dusted with light-brown tephra and one location was densely littered with white lithic fragments up to 1 cm across. Sandy tephra was 8-10 mm thick in some places and overlaid fine dark-gray ash. The fine fraction of the deposit contained minor scoria in addition to abundant lithic/accessory material, suggesting that the eruption two hours earlier was phreatomagmatic with a minor magmatic component. No fresh impact craters were observed. A light-brown, weakly convoluting ash column rose from a vent above the crater floor on the N wall of Hitchhiker vent.

On 1 August, the main crater floor was covered with fine dark-gray wet ash, often clumped into aggregates, mantling all blocks and impact craters. A moderate volume of fine ash was discharged from Hitchhiker vent accompanied by loud detonations at 30-second to 2-minute intervals. These eruption sounds did not correlate with discernable changes in ash/gas emission (which remained fairly steady) and seemed to originate deep within the conduit beneath the vent. No incandescence was visible in Hitchhiker vent, and the ash plume rose in an expanded state. Ash erupted after 15 June was 70 mm thick on 1978 Crater rim. Some survey pegs were coated on vertical surfaces with up to 15 mm of gray ash deposited from wet ash clouds. Ash sampled from the crater rim contained mostly unaltered accidental lithic and essential crystal/glass fragments lacking scoriaceous material. The fragments presumably were derived from wallrock and solidified magma. No fresh scoriacous bombs were found in the sparse block-size ejecta on the ground surface, but the ash cover prevented examination of many of the new clasts. Blocks were dominantly lithic accessory material. NE of the eruption vent, the previously incandescent Blue Duck fumarole 6 and other thermal areas had cooled substantially (table 7) and vent pressures were much lower than on 15 June, probably due to recent heavy winter rainfalls.

Table 7. White Island fumarole temperatures measured with an infrared thermometer, April-August 1988.

Date Donald Flat 3 Blue Duck 6 Noisy Nellie 9
14 Apr 1988 432°C 830°C 526°C
18 Apr 1988 432°C 800°C 516°C
15 Jun 1988 418°C 785°C 287°C
01 Aug 1988 245°C 390°C 245°C +

Seismic records to 27 June recorded the first significant B-type events in 1988. Small A-types numbered 0-8/day and E-types (explosion events) were recorded most days after 18 June. No records were obtained 27 June-12 July. From 12 to 14 July, medium-frequency microearthquakes (2-3/minute) dominated. The activity was similar 18-20 July. Records 28-30 July showed a change to larger A-type events, still occurring at a rate of 2-3/minute. Since 1 August, weak medium-frequency volcanic tremor and continued discrete A-type events have dominated the seismic record.

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: B. Scott and I. Nairn, NZGS Rotorua.