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Report on Ulawun (Papua New Guinea) — January 1993


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 18, no. 1 (January 1993)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Ulawun (Papua New Guinea) Seismicity increases; eruption column to 1,000 m above summit; continued ash emissions

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1993. Report on Ulawun (Papua New Guinea) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 18:1. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199301-252120


Papua New Guinea

5.05°S, 151.33°E; summit elev. 2334 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

"Seismic activity changed subtly at the end of December. Few low-frequency earthquakes were recorded, but there had been a gradual increase in low-amplitude, long-duration 'tremor events.' By the beginning of January, the increase had been such that the events had coalesced into sub-continuous very low-amplitude tremor. There was a brief return of low-frequency events 1-4 January, including some very unusual signatures. There were also indications of periodically stronger tremor at this time, although the signals could have been due to high winds. From the 5th onwards the level of tremor remained steady and there were only a few low-frequency events. Visible activity was normal, with small amounts of thin vapour being gently released.

"The first sign of any abnormal visible activity was on 12 January, when a report was received of a dark eruption column that was forcefully emitted to ~1,000 m above the summit before declining to 400 m in height and becoming lighter coloured. Many clouds form around Uluwan during the daytime, so there were no other reports to confirm this activity. There was also a report of weak glow seen that night. Aerial and ground inspections were made on 14 and 15 January, when activity consisted of sub-continuous, forceful emissions of low-moderate volumes of white vapour. There were less forceful emissions of blue vapour, and no increase in the level of tremor associated with the increase in visual activity. This type of activity persisted until 19 January.

"There were some reports of weak night glow and sub-continuous noises on the night of 18 January. However, emissions were unchanged at 0900 on the 19th. A change had occurred when the next observation was possible, at 1300, when there were forceful emissions of dark ash clouds to 500 m above the summit. Continuous night glow and sub-continuous deep roaring sounds were reported from Nuau village and Ulamona Mission, both ~12 km from the summit, on the night of the 19th. The level of tremor increased by a factor of about two between 0300 and 0400 on 20 January. Visual activity from dawn (0530) onwards consisted of moderate volumes of grey/brown ash being forcefully emitted up to 1.5 km above the crater. The emissions varied in strength, and during an aerial inspection it was possible to see into the crater, which is elongated in an E-W direction, with its largest dimension ~100 m. No base could be seen to the crater, and the emissions were being released from very deep on the E side. Blue vapour was seen at times. Continuous rumbling and roaring noises were heard on the flanks of the volcano.

"There was a decrease in the ash content and the volume of the emissions on 21 and 22 January, with moderate thick white vapour and occasional dark-grey ash clouds being gently released. Very light ashfall was reported from Sule and Nuau. From 23 January until the end of the month emissions were generally moderate white vapour, some blue vapour, and occasional light-grey ash clouds. At times of low winds, the vapour column rose to over 2 km above the summit. There was almost continuous weak glow from the crater at night. No sounds were heard during this time. Seismic tremor remained at moderate levels. There were some variations in the tremor level 26-27 January, producing slight 'banding' on Helicorder records.

"An aerial inspection on the 29th gave the first clear view of the base of the crater. The inner walls were precipitous and the crater was perhaps 150-200 m deep. Steady incandescence from a body of lava was seen on the E side of the crater floor; no explosive activity was seen. Pale-grey, fresh-looking tephra was noted on the crater walls above the lava surface, and a septum had developed, bisecting the base of the crater."

Geological Summary. The symmetrical basaltic-to-andesitic Ulawun stratovolcano is the highest volcano of the Bismarck arc, and one of Papua New Guinea's most frequently active. The volcano, also known as the Father, rises above the N coast of the island of New Britain across a low saddle NE of Bamus volcano, the South Son. The upper 1,000 m is unvegetated. A prominent E-W escarpment on the south may be the result of large-scale slumping. Satellitic cones occupy the NW and E flanks. A steep-walled valley cuts the NW side, and a flank lava-flow complex lies to the south of this valley. Historical eruptions date back to the beginning of the 18th century. Twentieth-century eruptions were mildly explosive until 1967, but after 1970 several larger eruptions produced lava flows and basaltic pyroclastic flows, greatly modifying the summit crater.

Information Contacts: R. Stewart, P. de Saint-Ours, and C. McKee, RVO.