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  • Volcanic Region
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  • Last Known Eruption
  • 15.6°S
  • 175.63°W

  • 260 m
    853 ft

  • 243110
  • Latitude
  • Longitude

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  • Volcano

The Global Volcanism Program has no activity reports for Niuafo'ou.

The Global Volcanism Program has no Weekly Reports available for Niuafo'ou.

Index of Monthly Reports

Reports are organized chronologically and indexed below by Month/Year (Publication Volume:Number), and include a one-line summary. Click on the index link or scroll down to read the reports.

09/1985 (SEAN 10:09) Earthquake swarm and pumice eruption in caldera lake

05/2001 (BGVN 26:05) New hot spring in caldera during May-June 1999

04/2003 (BGVN 28:04) Fumarolic and hot spring activity in the caldera during October 2002

Contents of Monthly Reports

All information contained in these reports is preliminary and subject to change.

All times are local (= UTC + 13 hours)

09/1985 (SEAN 10:09) Earthquake swarm and pumice eruption in caldera lake

During the night of 21-22 March, an earthquake swarm with Modified Mercalli intensities as high as VII scale was felt on the island of Niuafo'ou (figure 1). A large crack formed on the NE flank, and floating pumice appeared in the caldera lake.

Figure 1. Map of Niuafo`ou, showing the distribution of historical lava flows. The outlines of caldera lakes Vai Lahi and Vai Si'i, and the solfataric area Vai Kona, are stippled. Courtesy of Paul Taylor.

The first felt earthquake (MM IV) was at 2050 on 21 March. Strong tremors, lasting about 2 seconds each, continued for 30 minutes. A thunderous rumbling noise was heard, but it was difficult for island residents to locate its origin. Seismicity continued from 2130 to 2200 with intensities of II-IV; the tremors appeared to have a W to E motion. Between 2200 and 2300, the motion of the tremors appeared to change to E to W and intensities increased to III-V. Rumblings increased until [about] midnight when a particularly loud noise was heard and earthquake intensities increased to VI-VII. By 0100, the number of felt earthquakes had decreased and intensities had declined to III-IV. A small event of intensity II was felt at 0156. None of the earthquakes were large enough to be recorded at the Afiamalu seismic station, Upolu, Western Samoa (the nearest seismograph, about 500 km ENE of the volcano). [Villagers at Betani (Petani) and Tongamama`o (SE side of the island) reported very loud rumblings like thunder "which they estimated to have come from the reef SE (of the villages) and not from underground" (New Zealand Foreign Affairs Report Telegram, 23 March 1985, p. 2; submitted by J. Latter).]

During the night, a 250-m-long crack was discovered near the village of Fata'ulua (figure 2), extending inland from the shore. It appears that nothing was erupted from it. The RNZAF flew over the island on 23 March, and reported that it appeared normal and no destruction was observed.

Figure 2. Map of the NE part of Niuafo`ou, showing the location of the March 1985 cracks (A and B); the villages affected by the earthquakes; and the approximate distribution of pumice floating in the crater lake in late May. Courtesy of Paul Taylor.

On 24 March, Mr. Fifita, the Chief Meteorological Officer of Tonga, gave the following information to John Latter: No earthquakes were felt on Niuafo`ou after 1132 on the 22nd. Residents saw was fresh black pumice on the shore of Motu Lahi island in the caldera lake (figure 2). [A sample examined at Victoria University of Wellington was a very vesicular basaltic andesite.] From reports that he had received, Fifita estimated the extent of the pumice as 100 m long, 7 m wide, and 7-10 cm thick. There was no sign of a new crater, bubbles were not seen in the lake, nor was the lake water hot.

Further References. Rogers, G., 1981, The Evacuation of Niaufo`ou, an Outlier in the Kingdom of Tonga; Journal of Pacific History, v. 16, p. 149-163.

Taylor, P.W., 1986, Geology and Petrology of Niuafo`ou Island, Tonga; Subaerial Volcanism in an Active Back-arc Basin; New Zealand International Volcanological Congress Abstracts, p. 123.

Information Contacts: J. Latter, DSIR, Wellington; Mr. Fifita, Chief Meteorological Officer, Tonga; R. Blong and P. Taylor, Macquarie Univ.

05/2001 (BGVN 26:05) New hot spring in caldera during May-June 1999

On 8 May 1999 a group of natives were traveling around the E shore of Vai Si'i, the smaller of the two lakes that occupy the caldera in the center of the island. The water level in the lake was reported to be noticeably higher (about 0.5 m) than usual. At a locality on the E shore of the lake, below the caldera wall (figure 3) a new hot spring had formed. At the time of this observation it was below the level of the lake. Bubbles were being produced from the site and the water was noticeably warmer than usual.

Figure 3. Map showing the location of the new hot spring adjacent to the Vai Si'i crater lake in the caldera of Niuafo'ou that was reported in May 1999 and observed in June 1999. Courtesy of Paul Taylor.

This report of the new hot spring was communicated to Paul Taylor, a volcanic geologist who was conducting a workshop on the island during the first week of June 1999. When Taylor visited the lake on 1 June the water level had returned to its normal level, but the hot spring was clearly present in a small embankment on the side of the track that followed the edge of the lake. A small amount of steam and a quantity of hot water were still being produced by the spring at that time. The temperature of the water was estimated to be about 70-80°C. A small stream of the warm water was flowing across the track and into Vai Si'i. A strong smell of sulfur was present in the immediate area of the spring. A large deposit of dark, sulfur-rich mud was present along the shore within Vai Si'i near the new hot spring. Vegetation had withered noticeably and a large number of dead fish were present along the shoreline. The new hot spring represents the first reported activity in the NE part of the central caldera, and the first activity reported on the island in more than a decade.

Information Contact: Paul W. Taylor, Australian Volcanological Investigations, PO Box 291, Pymble, NSW 2073, Australia (Email:

04/2003 (BGVN 28:04) Fumarolic and hot spring activity in the caldera during October 2002

Niuafo'ou is Tonga's most active volcano with at least 10 periods of activity, both explosive and effusive, since the early 1800s. The most recent period of activity in 1946 (Taylor 1999) resulted in the complete evacuation of the island. This volcanic center, ~450 km N of Tongatapu, is an isolated volcanic island located in the N-central Lau Basin (figure 4). In May 1999 a vent was producing hot water and H2S, and dead fish were observed near the vent (BGVN 26:05). Paul W. Taylor visited the volcano in October 2002 and noted fumarolic activity in two areas of the central caldera. On 20 October fumarolic and hot spring activity was noted in the NE part of the caldera.

Figure 4. Locality map of the Lau Basin region, showing the location of Niuafo'ou. The symbols indicate centers with recorded eruptions (circles with stars); centers with no recorded activity (black stars); and probable submarine centers (white stars). Bathymetric contours are in kilometers. Courtesy of Paul Taylor.

Form and structure. Niuafo'ou is a subaerial shield volcano formed by submarine explosive and effusive activity during the Holocene. The island is approximately 8 km in diameter with a central caldera ~4 km in diameter with two lakes, Vai Lahi and Vai Si'i (figures 5 and 6). Periods of explosive activity have formed several small cinder cone complexes within the caldera. A detailed description of the geological features of Niuafo'ou is provided in Taylor (1991). Niuafo'ou rises to a height of 213 m above sea level at a point on the N rim of the caldera, a point known to the Niuafo'ouans as Piu Ofahifa.

Figure 5. Geological map of Niuafo'ou (after Taylor, 1991) showing the major features of the island. Courtesy of Paul Taylor.
Figure 6. Photograph of Niuafo'ou looking approximately W across the caldera. Both caldera lakes, Vai Lahi (background) and Vai Si'i (foreground) are visible. Courtesy of Paul Taylor.

Activity during October 2002. During a visit to Niuafo'ou in October 2002 to conduct a series of community workshops, it was noted that fumarolic activity was occurring in two areas of the central caldera. On 14 October Cecile Quesada (a French anthropologist) and Chris Simard visited the Vai Kona and Vai Sulfa areas along the S edge of the caldera (figure 6) and observed continued activity at the site. On 20 October, Taylor, Alejandra Meija-restrepo, Quesada, and Simard visited the Vai Si'i area in the NE part of the caldera and observed continued fumarolic and hot spring activity.

Vai Kona/Vai Sulfa Area. The Vai Kona/Vai Sulfa area of Niuafo'ou has been the site of persistent fumarolic and hot spring activity for many years. Activity was reported in 1958 (Richard, 1962) and again during 1982-83 and 1984 (Taylor, 1991). The level of Vai Kona fluctuates periodically. When Quesada and Simard visited the site on 14 October 2002, areas of persistent activity were observed.

Activity at Vai Kona was concentrated along the S shores of the lake (figure 7). Quesada and Simard observed numerous active vents on the floor of the lake, with large quantities of bubbles reaching the surface. The water temperature was estimated to be 25-30°C. Thick dark mud was present on the bottom of the lake and the temperature of the mud around the vents was estimated to be 35-40°C. Several active hot springs were also observed along the W shore of Vai Kona. These observations suggest that activity at the site has intensified since observed in 1958 and 1983.

Figure 7. Niuafo'ou Island showing the location of fumarolic activity observed during October 2002. Courtesy of Paul Taylor.

Vai Sulfa occupies a small depression W of the southern end of Vai Kona (figure 7). The entire feature covers an area of about 30 m2 and consists of two sections. The W part of the depression is occupied by a small lake, while the E section is dry. At the center of this dry area is a vent ~40 cm across and 20-30 cm deep filled with mud and leaves. When leaves were removed from the hole during the visit it began to fill with water, and a boiling sound was heard. Extensive deposits of sulfur existed around the entire depression, and a strong smell of sulfur was present. Similar activity was also occurring when Quesada and Simard visited the area during July and September 2001. However, activity was less intense at those times.

Vai Si'i Area. A new site of fumarolic activity was first reported during May 1999 and observed during June 1999 (BGVN 26:05). When the site was visited on 20 October the focus of activity had moved to an area along the E shore of Vai Si'i. Numerous vents were present on the floor of the lake along the shoreline. The affected area stretched along the shoreline for ~25-30 m from where the vents were concentrated (figure 7). Active vents were aligned along the shoreline. Although the temperature of the lake water was an estimated 30°C (the prevailing air temperature), the temperature just below the surface of the sediment around the vents had increased to an estimated 65-75°C.

The vents were producing gas that was bubbling to the surface. A strong sulfur smell was noted, and large deposits of sulfur were present in the mud that comprised the floor of the lake around the vents. The deposits formed three elongated lobes that stretched S from the vents. The lobe-like distribution was probably the result of wind-induced currents. Vegetation along the shoreline was dead and encrusted with white sulfur (?). The observations suggests a net increase in activity at the Vai Si'i site since June 1999.

Conclusions. The observed fumarolic activity on Niuafo'ou indicates that the volcanic system is still active. Although not widespread, the fumarolic manifestations observed during 1999-2002 probably represent a net increase in the activity of the system since the last eruption in 1946. At this stage the level of activity is not of concern, but it should be monitored for signs of increase.

References. Richard, J.J., 1962, Kermadec, Tonga and Samoa: Catalogue of Active Volcanoes of the World, part 13.

Taylor, P.W., 1991, The Geology and Petrology of Niuafo'ou Island, Tonga: Subaerial Volcanism in an Active Back-arc Basin: Unpublished MSc thesis, Macquarie University, AVI Occasional Report, No. 91/01.

Taylor, P.W., 1999, The 1946 Eruption of Niuafo'ou: AVI Occasional Report, No. 99/03.

Information Contacts: Paul W. Taylor, Australian Volcanological Investigations, PO Box 291, Pymble, NSW 2073 Australia (Email: avitaylor@mpx.

Niuafo'ou ("Tin Can Island") is a low, 8-km-wide island that forms the summit of a largely submerged basaltic shield volcano. Niuafo'ou is an isolated volcanic island in the north central Lau Basin about 170 km west of the northern end of the Tofua volcanic arc. The circular island encloses a 5-km-wide caldera that is mostly filled by a lake whose bottom extends to below sea level. The inner walls of the caldera drop sharply to the caldera lake, named Big Lake (or Vai Lahi), which contains several small islands and pyroclastic cones on its NE shore. Historical eruptions, mostly from circumferential fissures on the west-to-south side of the island, have been recorded since 1814 and have often damaged villages on this small ring-shaped island. A major eruption at Niuafo'ou in 1946 forced evacuation of most of its 1200 inhabitants.

Summary of Holocene eruption dates and Volcanic Explosivity Indices (VEI).

Start Date Stop Date Eruption Certainty VEI Evidence Activity Area or Unit
1985 Mar 21 1985 Mar 22 Confirmed 0 Historical Observations NE part of caldera lake (Vai Lahi)
[ 1959 ] [ Unknown ] Uncertain    
[ 1947 Jan ] [ Unknown ] Uncertain    
1946 Sep 9 1946 Sep 17 Confirmed 2 Historical Observations North flank
1943 Sep 26 1943 Oct 16 ± 30 days Confirmed 2 Historical Observations SW flank
1935 Dec 7 1936 Feb (?) Confirmed 2 Historical Observations South flank
1929 Jul 25 1929 Jul 26 Confirmed 2 Historical Observations West flank
1912 Oct 15 ± 5 days Unknown Confirmed 2 Historical Observations West side, near Alele 'Uta village
1887 Unknown Confirmed 2 Historical Observations
1886 Aug 31 1886 Sep 18 (?) Confirmed 4 Historical Observations NE side of caldera
1867 Apr 12 Unknown Confirmed 1 Historical Observations SSW flank
1853 Jun 24 1853 Jun 24 (?) Confirmed 0 Historical Observations SW caldera rim (Ahau village area)
[ 1840 ] [ Unknown ] Discredited    
1814 Unknown Confirmed 2 Historical Observations South end of caldera ?

This compilation of synonyms and subsidiary features may not be comprehensive. Features are organized into four major categories: Cones, Craters, Domes, and Thermal Features. Synonyms of features appear indented below the primary name. In some cases additional feature type, elevation, or location details are provided.

Niu-afu | Good Hope Island | Tin Can Island | Niafu | Niau'fou | Niua Fo'ou

Feature Name Feature Type Elevation Latitude Longitude
Faamotu Cone
Hikutemotu Cone
Motu Lahi Cone 128 m
Motu Molimoli Cone
Vai Fo Cone 122 m
Niuafo'ou caldera is seen from its eastern rim, displaying both caldera lakes, the large Vai Lahi (background) and the much smaller Vai Si'i (foreground). Niuafo'ou ("Tin Can Island") is a low, 8-km-wide island that forms the summit of a largely submerged shield volcano. The 5-km-wide caldera is mostly filled by Vai Lahi, whose lake bottom extends to below sea level. Historical eruptions, mostly from circumferential fissures, have been recorded since 1814 and have often damaged villages on this small ring-shaped island.

Photo by Paul Taylor (published in Taylor and Ewart, 1997).

The following references have all been used during the compilation of data for this volcano, it is not a comprehensive bibliography. Discussion of another volcano or eruption (sometimes far from the one that is the subject of the manuscript) may produce a citation that is not at all apparent from the title.

Jaggar T A, 1931b. Geology and geography of Niuafoou volcano. Volcano Lett, 318: 1-3.

Macdonald G A, 1948. Notes on Niuafo'ou. Amer J Sci, 246: 65-77.

Richard J J, 1962. Kermadec, Tonga and Samoa. Catalog of Active Volcanoes of the World and Solfatara Fields, Rome: IAVCEI, 13: 1-38.

Taylor P W, 1991. The geology and petrology of Niuafo'ou Island, Tonga: subaerial volcanism in an active back-arc basin. Unpublished MSci thesis, Maquarie Univ.

Volcano Types

Pyroclastic cone(s)

Tectonic Setting

Subduction zone
Oceanic crust (< 15 km)

Rock Types

Basalt / Picro-Basalt


Within 5 km
Within 10 km
Within 30 km
Within 100 km

Affiliated Databases

Large Eruptions of Niuafo'ou Information about large Quaternary eruptions (VEI >= 4) is cataloged in the Large Magnitude Explosive Volcanic Eruptions (LaMEVE) database of the Volcano Global Risk Identification and Analysis Project (VOGRIPA).
WOVOdat WOVOdat is a database of volcanic unrest; instrumentally and visually recorded changes in seismicity, ground deformation, gas emission, and other parameters from their normal baselines. It is sponsored by the World Organization of Volcano Observatories (WOVO) and presently hosted at the Earth Observatory of Singapore.
EarthChem EarthChem develops and maintains databases, software, and services that support the preservation, discovery, access and analysis of geochemical data, and facilitate their integration with the broad array of other available earth science parameters. EarthChem is operated by a joint team of disciplinary scientists, data scientists, data managers and information technology developers who are part of the NSF-funded data facility Integrated Earth Data Applications (IEDA). IEDA is a collaborative effort of EarthChem and the Marine Geoscience Data System (MGDS).
Smithsonian Collections Search the Smithsonian's NMNH Department of Mineral Sciences collections database. Go to the "Search Rocks and Ores" tab and use the Volcano Name drop-down to find samples.