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Report on White Island (New Zealand) — October 1988

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 13, no. 10 (October 1988)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

White Island (New Zealand) Ash emission; earthquake swarms

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1988. Report on White Island (New Zealand). In: McClelland, L. (ed.), Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 13:10. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198810-241040.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 321 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


Since geologists last visited ... on 14 August, no eruptions have been reported although numerous E-type (explosion) earthquakes have occurred. During fieldwork on 14 October, a continuous expanded gas plume containing fine pink ash rose from Hitchhiker vent. Brick-red ash covered the island's E half and small impact craters were scattered ESE of the vent. Tephra ejected after 1 August was 70 mm thick at Congress Crater's rim and included altered lithic fragments, abraded crystals, and a few % fresh, light brown, highly vesicular scoria fragments. High pressure/temperature gas was emitted from fumaroles roughly 200 m E of Hitchhiker vent, including two new vents. Gas vents were surrounded by aprons of material ranging from anhydrite-cemented ash to lithic blocks.

Since early August, an average of seven B-type and fewer than five high-frequency A-type seismic events have been recorded/day. Earthquake swarms were detected 24-25 August (62 events), 7-8 September (38 events), and 23-24 September (57 events followed by E-type earthquakes). Of 20 E-type events recorded in August, 16 occurred 12-24 August. Four E-type events were recorded in September and one on 2 October, before ash accumulation on solar panels suspended operation of seismic instruments on 4 October.

Geologic Background. Uninhabited 2 x 2.4 km White Island, one of New Zealand's most active volcanoes, is the 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 summit crater appears to be breached to the SE, because the shoreline corresponds to the level of several notches in the SE crater wall. Volckner Rocks, four sea stacks that are remnants of a lava dome, lie 5 km NNE. Intermittent moderate phreatomagmatic and strombolian eruptions have occurred throughout the short historical period beginning in 1826, but its activity also forms a prominent part of Maori legends. Formation of many new vents during the 19th and 20th centuries has produced 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.

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