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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — December 1995

Whakaari/White Island

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 20, no. 11 (December 1995)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Sub-crater divides collapse, but no eruptive activity

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1995. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 20:11. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199512-241040

Whakaari/White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 294 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The following summarizes observations between August and December 1995 made by pilot R. Fleming and IGNS scientists. No significant eruptive activity has occurred since minor ash emissions on 28-29 June (BGVN 20:07).

A new 30-m-diameter crater was noted on 12 August in the area of the May '91 embayment. It had destroyed a large fumarole and was ejecting mud at intervals of 2-5 seconds. By 3 October, Wade, TV1, and Princess craters were joined in a single lake, following the failure of their divides. On 13 November the rising lake level was encroaching on the area of fumaroles and hot ground. Several new fumarolic vents were noted 20-30 m above the lake level. No more crater changes were observed through 12 December. Very little seismicity was recorded: low-frequency tremor accompanied the formation of the 12 August vent. Seismicity revealed no evidence of eruptive activity since 28-29 June.

Ground deformation and magnetic surveys continued to record trends indicative of future eruptive activity. Inflation was localized in the Donald Mound area, in contrast with the earlier pattern of crater-wide inflation between November 1994 and July 1995. Inflation is occurring at a much greater rate than that observed before the 1976 eruption. Magnetic decreases under Donald Mound and on the NE side of the 1978/90 Crater Complex indicate shallow heating. Other indicators like heatflow and gas chemistry do not suggest an incipient eruption. Fumarole temperatures remain relatively low, and gas samples from fumaroles were richer in water than in the past, consistent with the rise of the water table. However, the influence of the rising water level and its possible masking effects remain uncertain.

Geological Summary. The uninhabited Whakaari/White Island is the 2 x 2.4 km emergent summit of a 16 x 18 km submarine volcano in the Bay of Plenty about 50 km offshore of North Island. The island consists of two overlapping andesitic-to-dacitic stratovolcanoes. The SE side of the crater is open at sea level, with the recent activity centered about 1 km from the shore close to the rear crater wall. Volckner Rocks, sea stacks that are remnants of a lava dome, lie 5 km NW. Descriptions of volcanism since 1826 have included intermittent moderate phreatic, phreatomagmatic, and Strombolian eruptions; activity there also forms a prominent part of Maori legends. The formation of many new vents during the 19th and 20th centuries caused rapid changes in crater floor topography. Collapse of the crater wall in 1914 produced a debris avalanche that buried buildings and workers at a sulfur-mining project. Explosive activity in December 2019 took place while tourists were present, resulting in many fatalities. The official government name Whakaari/White Island is a combination of the full Maori name of Te Puia o Whakaari ("The Dramatic Volcano") and White Island (referencing the constant steam plume) given by Captain James Cook in 1769.

Information Contacts: B.J. Scott, Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences (IGNS), Private Bag 2000, Wairakei, New Zealand.