Logo link to homepage

Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — April 1989

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 14, no. 4 (April 1989)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Tephra ejections continue

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1989. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 14:4. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198904-241040.

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)


Donald Duck vent has intermittently ejected tephra since its formation in late January in a zone of strong fumarolic activity ~100 m NE of eruptive vents in 1978 crater (figure 11). Photographs by Geoff Green of a 4 March eruption (at about 1500-1530) show a 500-m, vigorously convoluting ash column with an incandescent base. The eruption continued for at least 45 minutes, and ash emission also began from R.F. Crater. A larger eruption between 16 and 20 March, apparently not witnessed, presumably generated a larger column. During April, Donald Duck vent continued to eject ash and threw lithic blocks to as much as 200 m S. Intermittent ash, block, and bomb ejections also continued from R.F. Crater during the month. Two bomb-ejecting eruptions from R.F. Crater since 20 March were followed by widespread ash deposition.

During 26 April fieldwork, Donald Duck vent emitted voluminous clouds of light gray gas from a vent at the base of its N wall. New ash-covered scoria bombs (first noted in early April) were present S of Donald Mound, reaching more than l m in diameter near the 1978 Crater rim. R.F. Crater (appearing deep with vertical walls) discharged a dilute cloud of gas and fine pink ash. Ash covered much of the main crater floor and walls. Impact craters and lithic blocks a few days old were abundant around Donald Mound and Donald Duck vent. Congress Crater was quiet.

Fumarole temperatures and emissions had decreased at most vents except Noisy Nellie, which continued to emit voluminous high-pressure gas. Geologists suggested that Donald Duck and R.F. Crater have been capturing heat from surrounding areas, which are cooling as a result. General deflation, in progress since mid-l987, continued with strong subsidence of the Donald Mound area. Seismicity through late April remained similar to previous months, with microearthquakes recorded most days. Activity was conspicuously banded, with individual bands lasting 1.5-24 hours, containing up to 10 medium-frequency events/minute. Activity was most prolonged around 1-2 April. Small E-type events were recorded in April on the 3rd (0854) and 8th (0115, 0931, and 2008), while small A-types occurred most days. Very few B-types were recorded.

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.