Logo link to homepage

Report on Ruapehu (New Zealand) — February 1990


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 15, no. 2 (February 1990)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Ruapehu (New Zealand) Phreatic eruptions continue; Crater Lake temperatures highest since 1982

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1990. Report on Ruapehu (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 15:2. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199002-241100


New Zealand

39.28°S, 175.57°E; summit elev. 2797 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Eruptions and vigorous upwellings continued throughout January, with the latest episodes reported on 23-26 and 31 January. The lake temperature continued to rise, from 27°C on 11 January to 46.7°C on 1 February. No significant changes in lake chemistry, deformation, or seismicity were observed.

During fieldwork on 26 January, the lake was battleship gray and visibly convecting from the central and N vents, which were surrounded by black and yellow slicks, respectively. Water temperature was 42.1°C (at the outflow). Within 4 hours, geologists witnessed five episodes of phreatic activity at the central vent. A 1-2-m updoming of the lake surface occurred at 1232. Two minutes later, a vigorous steam eruption ejected a dark gray, 5-m, superheated steam plume, 4 m in diameter. A 30-minute eruption at 1332 was followed by a small, 25-second, audible upwelling. The largest eruption, at 1519, ejected a 25-m-wide superheated column to ~30 m, cored by black, suspension-laden fluid. The diffuse steam column rose several hundred meters. Water surged onto the lake shore, washing ~3.0 m above the outlet.

Crater Lake appeared similar when next visited on 1 February. One small phreatic episode at about 1153 produced upwelling to ~10 m above the lake surface, followed by a decrease in lake outflow. The maximum temperature measured by thermocouple was 46.7°C (at the outlet).

Seismicity was generally typical of recent Crater Lake heating episodes. Continuous, moderate to strong, 2-Hz and occasional 1-Hz tremor was recorded through early February. Small high-frequency earthquakes sometimes accompanied eruptions but appeared unrelated to the activity. No discrete volcanic earthquakes were recorded.

Geologists noted that characteristics of the current lake heating episode were slightly different from those of the early 1980's. Although the lake has reached its highest temperature since 1982, Mg/Cl ratios have persistently declined, suggesting continuous introduction of HCl into the lake, with little or no exposure of fresh rock to reactive vent fluids. The present low deformation is consistent with an open vent situation and suggests no recent intrusion of magma.

Geological Summary. Ruapehu, one of New Zealand's most active volcanoes, is a complex stratovolcano constructed during at least four cone-building episodes dating back to about 200,000 years ago. The dominantly andesitic 110 km3 volcanic massif is elongated in a NNE-SSW direction and surrounded by another 100 km3 ring plain of volcaniclastic debris, including the NW-flank Murimoto debris-avalanche deposit. A series of subplinian eruptions took place between about 22,600 and 10,000 years ago, but pyroclastic flows have been infrequent. The broad summait area and flank contain at least six vents active during the Holocene. Frequent mild-to-moderate explosive eruptions have been recorded from the Te Wai a-Moe (Crater Lake) vent, and tephra characteristics suggest that the crater lake may have formed as recently as 3,000 years ago. Lahars resulting from phreatic eruptions at the summit crater lake are a hazard to a ski area on the upper flanks and lower river valleys.

Information Contacts: B. Christenson, DSIR Wairakei; B. Scott, NZGS Rotorua.