Additional Report for Fiji Pumice

Floating Pumice (Fiji)

SW pacific Ocean

Pumice rafts drifted to the Fiji area in 1979 and 1984 from submarine eruptions at Metis Shoal and Home Reef, both in the Tonga Islands roughly 350 km ENE. No new submarine eruptions have been reported in the region, and the pumice could be remobilized material from an earlier eruption. The active volcanoes of Tonga are 700-800 km E to SE from Fiji, and Monowai Seamount (Kermadec Islands) is ~1,100 km SE of Suva. Pumice from past eruptions in Tonga has typically traveled W to NW, with some material also moving SW.


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.

02/1988 (SEAN 13:02) Pumice near Lau Island, but no new submarine activity known

10/1990 (BGVN 15:10) 30-km zone of pumice from unknown source

11/1990 (BGVN 15:11) Details of aerial pumice observations; pumice washes ashore on one island

01/1991 (BGVN 16:01) No clear evidence of pumice despite aerial observations

05/1992 (BGVN 17:05) Source unknown

11/1994 (BGVN 19:11) Source unknown


Contents of Monthly Reports

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

All times are local (= UTC + 12 hours)

02/1988 (SEAN 13:02) Pumice near Lau Island, but no new submarine activity known

The crew of Air Pacific flight FJ 407 (Tonga to Nausori, Fiji) observed a zone of floating pumice ~1.5 km long by 3-4 m wide near 20°S, 178°W (near the S end of the Lau Group, Fiji) on 11 February at 1011. No reports of pumice from ships or island residents [are known to GVN].

Information Contacts: J. Latter, DSIR, Wellington.

10/1990 (BGVN 15:10) 30-km zone of pumice from unknown source

An "underwater explosion" and "pumice swirl" ~30 km wide were reported at 19.10°S, 175.41°E (200 km SW of Nadi, Fiji) on 16 October at 1058 from Air Pacific flight 914 (Nadi to Sydney, Australia). At 1450, the crew of a second Air Pacific flight (enroute from Auckland, New Zealand) noted pumice visible in the sea 130 km from Nadi (on the W coast of Fiji's largest island, Viti Levu) [see also 15:11-12].

Although no historical volcanism has been reported near the observation site, the area is near a spreading center described by Gill and Whelan (1989). Another possible source of the pumice is Monowai Seamount (25.92°S, 177.15°W), 1,100 km to the ESE, where submarine activity was observed from the HMNZS Tui on 13 August. On 30 May-18 June and 5-7 September, the Polynesian Seismic Net recorded T-phase activity, centered in the Monowai area, that had characteristics typical of shallow submarine eruptions.

Reference. Gill, J., and Whelan, P., 1989, Early rifting of an oceanic island arc (Fiji) Produced shoshonitic to tholeiitic basalts: JGR, v. 94, no. B4, p. 4561-4578.

Information Contacts: J. Latter, DSIR Geophysics, Wellington.

11/1990 (BGVN 15:11) Details of aerial pumice observations; pumice washes ashore on one island

The following, from Trevor Jones and Peter Rodda, supplements preliminary reports of pumice sightings near Fiji in 15:10.

"A report of floating pumice was received from Nitin Hiralal, First Officer of Air Pacific flight FJ 914 (Nadi-Sydney) on 16 October. At 1058, he saw a 'pumice swirl' ~15-30 km across, at 19.10°S, 175.41°E, from an altitude of ~10 km. It had a regular circular shape. He saw nothing else, but presumed that there had to be some local volcanological activity because of the regular pattern. He says that it is 'reasonably common' to see streaks of pumice along wave crests on the Vanuatu and Tonga routes (from Fiji). On 17 October, while returning to Fiji, he checked and saw 'only pumice streaks' at about 1330, presumably around the same position. Pumice was also reported 150 km S of Nadi [roughly 19.1°S, 177.5°E] from an Auckland-Nadi flight on 16 October. There have been no reports from ships of pumice in the area, nor have any reports other than the above appeared in the Fiji Times.

"The relative compactness of the first presumed pumice reported suggests an origin in the area, but although submarine volcanoes exist in the vicinity, no peaks are known to rise above ~1,800 m depth in the general area, and it seems unlikely that pumice could form. The two locations from which presumed pumice was reported suggest an origin on the Tonga-Kermadec Ridge, roughly in the latitude of Fonua Fo'ou [20.3°S] or farther S; based on the drift time of Home Reef pumice in 1964, from the first report of the eruption to the first arrival in Fiji and later arrival in Suva, pumice could reach the site in the North Fiji Basin from that part of the Tonga Ridge in ~75-85 days, giving a possible eruption date in late July (or earlier if farther S - if Monowai Seamount, ~95-105 days, or early to mid-July).

"Four reply-paid telegrams sent in late October to the agents at four Postal Agencies in S Fiji brought no replies. The radio-telephone to Vunisea, Post Office for Kadavu Province [about 19°S, 178.5°E] is out of order, so no information about the arrival of pumice there can conveniently be obtained quickly. Questionnaires have been posted." By mid-November, pumice had been reported from Koro Island (about 17.3°S, 179.4°E), and questionnaires were being sent to locations throughout the Lau Group (E of Fiji's largest islands) and elsewhere.

Information Contacts: T. Jones and P. Rodda, Mineral Resources Dept, Suva, Fiji.

01/1991 (BGVN 16:01) No clear evidence of pumice despite aerial observations

Airplane pilots observed what they believed to be floating pumice SW of Fiji 16-17 October, and pumice was initially reported to have come ashore at Koro Island in November. However, careful investigation by Fiji's Mineral Resources Department yielded no evidence of floating pumice in the region (Rodda and Jones, 1991). The "Koro Island" pumice report was in fact from Nacekoro (site of the airport at Savusavu, S-central Vanua Levu), and appears to have been an observation of older pumice, probably from the 1984 eruption of Home Reef. Mineral Resources Department personnel working in the NW (Yasawa Group) and S-central (Toyota Is) parts of Fiji in December saw no new drifting pumice, although a considerable quantity of Home Reef material remained on the backs of beaches. Telegrams requesting information about pumice, sent in late October to each of the four postal agencies in S Fiji, and 38 questionnaires sent to schools, postmasters, and shipping companies in S Fiji, yielded only a single negative response (from Oni-i-Lau, in the southern Lau Group). Responses had been received from 25% of similar inquiries after the arrival of pumice from the Home Reef eruption.

Reference. Rodda, P., and Jones, T.D., 1991, The 1990 reports of drift pumice in Fiji: Mineral Resources Department Note BP1/91, 3 p.

Information Contacts: P. Rodda, Mineral Resources Dept, Suva, Fiji.

05/1992 (BGVN 17:05) Source unknown

A Fiji Air passenger saw two narrow, elongate rafts of drifting pumice in the Kadavu passage ~30 km SE of Suva (figure 1) on 24 January. Fiji's Maritime Surveillance Centre issued a warning to mariners, published in newspapers on 27 January. Pumice was subsequently reported from ships roughly 50 km SW and 160 km NW of the initial observation.

Figure 1. Map of Fiji, from Baleivanualala, 1992, showing locations of pumice rafts seen in early 1992.

A search of the Suva Harbour area on 27 January revealed pumice floating in the Suva Passage and stranded at the high-tide line around the Suva Peninsula. The pumice was gravel-sized, with the largest fragment ~4 cm across. The samples were weathered and some included living barnacles up to 9 mm long. After the 1984 Home Reef (Tonga) eruption, barnacles 1.5 cm long were found on pumice that was at most 25 weeks old, so a provisional maximum age of 15 weeks was assigned by Baleivanualala to the barnacles found in January 1992. Given an estimated drift rate of ~12 km/day (Rodda and Jones, 1990), the pumice might have traveled 1,300 km from the eruption site. No reports of eruptions in the Tonga-Kermadec region have been received.

References. Baleivanualala, V., 1992, Drift pumice in Kadavu Passage, January 1992: Fiji Mineral Resources Department Note BP57/1, 3 pp.

Rodda, P., and Jones, T.D., 1990, The 1990 reports of drift pumice in Fiji (Corrigendum): Fiji Mineral Resources Department Note BP1/91.

Information Contacts: V. Baleivanualala and P. Rodda, Mineral Resources Dept, Suva, Fiji.

11/1994 (BGVN 19:11) Source unknown

S. Chandra, Fiji Meteorological Service, noted that Air Pacific FJ440 bound for Auckland from Nadi (Viti Levu) reported sighting pumice ~220-330 km out of Nadi at about 1530 on 25 November 1992.

On 2 December 1994, Mike Green of the Fiji Meteorological Service reported that the pilot of a flight from Nadi to Melbourne saw what he believed to be pumice ~130 km SSW of Nadi on a bearing of 200°. A lesser amount of pumice was seen to the left of the flight path ~240 km from the airport. The plane had been scheduled to depart at 1145, placing these observations around noon. Reply-paid telegrams were sent on 6 December to postal agents at Ono-i-Lau (southernmost Lau Group), Qalikarua (Matuku), and Daviqele (W Kadavu), asking if any pumice had arrived within the last few weeks. No reply had been received by the Fiji Mineral Resources Dept by 9 December, so it was assumed that none was seen.

Although no historical volcanism has been reported near these observation sites, the area is close to a spreading center.

Information Contacts: P. Rodda and G. Wheller, Mineral Resources Dept, Suva, Fiji.