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

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 14, no. 7 (July 1989)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Tephra emission declines

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1989. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 14:7. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198907-241040.

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)


An explosion on 3 July, marked by an E-type earthquake at 1134, produced an eruption column 2,000-2,500 m high. E-type earthquakes were also recorded 25 June at 1002 and 17 July at 1015. Other seismicity generally remained similar to previous months, with A- and B-type events most days (~5-10), and minor high-frequency volcanic tremor 5-11 and 21-32 July.

When geologists visited the volcano on 31 July, there was little evidence of significant eruptive activity since previous fieldwork on 23 June. A small amount of fine gray ash may have originated from Donald Duck since the 23 June visit, but recent rainfall erosion made this difficult to assess. No new ejecta from R.F. crater had accumulated on the 1978 Crater rim, and no ash was found on the seismic solar panels. Tephra pits showed that Donald Duck had ejected nearly all the tephra deposited 26 April-23 June in the area ~150 m W and SW. Tephra from R.F. Crater was only significant ~200 m S of Donald Duck.

The new intermittently active vent 30 m NNE of Donald Duck (first noticed 10 May; 14:06) emitted white gas, as did R.F. Crater. Activity of R.F. and Hitchhiker vents seemed related; when emissions from R.F. Crater were strong, gases from Hitchhiker seemed to be drawn back into the vent. Dark blocks and numerous small fumaroles covered R.F. crater floor. Fumarole temperatures decreased in the Donald Mound/Noisy Nellie area. Deformation studies suggested that the pattern of continuous subsidence that began in February has ended.

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; J. Cole, Univ of Canterbury, Christchurch.