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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — 5 December-11 December 2012

Smithsonian / US Geological Survey Weekly Volcanic Activity Report, 5 December-11 December 2012
Managing Editor: Sally Kuhn Sennert

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2012. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand). In: Sennert, S K (ed.), Weekly Volcanic Activity Report, 5 December-11 December 2012. Smithsonian Institution and US Geological Survey.

Volcano Profile |  Weekly Report (5 December-11 December 2012)


Whakaari/White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 294 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


On 12 December the GeoNet Data Centre posted a report describing a new lava dome at White Island that volcanologists recently noticed. The spiny lava dome was 20-30 m in diameter and grew in a crater formed during an eruption on 5 August. A prominent steam plume rose from the dome. Comments from tour operators at White Island suggested that the dome may have been visible two weeks earlier, but not as clearly as on 10 December. The Alert Level was raised to 2 (on a scale of 0-5), and the Aviation Colour Code was raised to Orange (second highest on a four-color scale).

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.

Source: GeoNet