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Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) — December 1994


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 19, no. 12 (December 1994)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) Explosive activity at Tavurvur declines and finally stops

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1994. Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 19:12. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199412-252140


Papua New Guinea

4.2459°S, 152.1937°E; summit elev. 688 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

"The 1994 eruption . . . stopped in December. Explosive activity at Tavurvur varied in strength during the month and stopped completely on 23 December. Vulcan remained quiet, with the last explosive activity on 2 October. Vulcan exhibited only very weak fumarolic activity during December from both the 1937 and 1994 craters. A landslide took place on the NW portion of the inner wall of its 1994 crater some time between 2 and 5 December, leaving a near-vertical face.

"Following the decline in explosive activity during November, there was very little activity at Tavurvur on 1-2 December. A new phase of explosive activity began at about 2300 on 3 December; this peaked in intensity on the 5th and then declined slowly until 19 December. The decline was evident in the ash content of the clouds and their height (up to 2 km altitude at the peak of activity) but not in the interval between explosions (1-40 minutes). Ash emissions usually lasted for about a minute. The ash clouds were blown mainly NNW over Rabaul Town, where there was light-moderate ashfall, and occasionally to the SE. A series of explosions would sometimes create a discontinuous ash plume. There were no audible sounds associated with the explosions. During an aerial inspection on 9 December, a small lava mound was seen on the floor of the crater and incandescence was seen in cracks between the rocks.

"At night on 19 and 20 December, weak roaring and rumbling sounds were heard; incandescent projections were noted on 20 December. At 0137 on 21 December there was a large explosion that was heard and felt over a wide area. For the next two days, there were many of these explosions as well as some long (up to 6 hours) periods of quiescence. The ash content of the explosion clouds was higher than during the first two-thirds of the month and the ash emissions lasted up to 3 minutes. Due to changes in the prevailing wind direction, a 20-km-long horizontal plume spreading both NW and SE was generated at a height of 1-2 km. On 23 December, there were only a few short periods of weaker explosive activity. The last explosion noted occurred at 1500. From then until the end of the month, the only visible activity was emission of white vapour, low-moderate in volume, from the crater. The vapour rose several hundreds of metres above sea level, rarely to a kilometer.

"Seismicity in December consisted mainly of explosive and low-frequency earthquakes associated with the activity at Tavurvur - the level of seismic activity followed the visual activity. Between 13 and 19 December, a new type of event came to dominate the records. These events were of longer duration and lower amplitude than the low-frequency events that had been recorded since the start of the eruption. More normal events returned with the explosive activity on 20 December and continued until the 26th. Seismic activity was very low from then until the end of the month. There were again very few high-frequency earthquakes: 30 in December, compared to 37 in November and 58 in October. Ground deformation from electronic tiltmeters and dry-tilt measurements showed a further reduction in the rate of deflation. There were reports of a rainbow linking Tavurvur and Vulcan on 25 December."

Geological Summary. The low-lying Rabaul caldera on the tip of the Gazelle Peninsula at the NE end of New Britain forms a broad sheltered harbor utilized by what was the island's largest city prior to a major eruption in 1994. The outer flanks of the asymmetrical shield volcano are formed by thick pyroclastic-flow deposits. The 8 x 14 km caldera is widely breached on the east, where its floor is flooded by Blanche Bay and was formed about 1,400 years ago. An earlier caldera-forming eruption about 7,100 years ago is thought to have originated from Tavui caldera, offshore to the north. Three small stratovolcanoes lie outside the N and NE caldera rims. Post-caldera eruptions built basaltic-to-dacitic pyroclastic cones on the caldera floor near the NE and W caldera walls. Several of these, including Vulcan cone, which was formed during a large eruption in 1878, have produced major explosive activity during historical time. A powerful explosive eruption in 1994 occurred simultaneously from Vulcan and Tavurvur volcanoes and forced the temporary abandonment of Rabaul city.

Information Contacts: D. Lolok, R.Stewart, and B. Talai, RVO.