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Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) — March 1996


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 21, no. 3 (March 1996)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) December-March ash deposits now 10-cm thick; seismicity continues

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1996. Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 21:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199603-252140


Papua New Guinea

4.271°S, 152.203°E; summit elev. 688 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

During March the intra-caldera cone Tavurvur produced ash explosions at 2-5 minute intervals; these rose to ~400-1,500 m altitude and then generally drifted SE. As a result, over the last 4 months ~10 cm of ash accumulated on the abandoned village of Talwat (2 km SE of Tavurvur). Vulcan only produced weak fumarolic emissions.

Seismicity fluctuated slightly during March, remaining at a level slightly lower than the peak reached in mid-February. Low-frequency earthquakes, events associated with Tavurvur ash emissions, took place 100-250 times/day (a total of 4,708 times during March). There were also five brief intervals where non-harmonic tremor took place. Only six high-frequency earthquakes occurred; some were kilometers outside the caldera to the NE in the area most seismically active since the 1994 eruption.

No significant ground deformation affected the caldera during the month. Overall, during the recent eruptive phase, the only observed ground deformation has been a slight (20 µrad) deflation at the tiltmeters nearest to Tavurvur.

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 688-m-high asymmetrical pyroclastic 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 1400 years ago. An earlier caldera-forming eruption about 7100 years ago is now considered to have originated from Tavui caldera, offshore to the north. Three small stratovolcanoes lie outside the northern and NE caldera rims. Post-caldera eruptions built basaltic-to-dacitic pyroclastic cones on the caldera floor near the NE and western 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: Ben Talai, Rabaul Volcano Observatory, P.O. Box 386, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.