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Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) — June 1997


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 22, no. 6 (June 1997)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) Diminished eruptions after 1 June but strong tilt follows

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1997. Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 22:6. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199706-252140


Papua New Guinea

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Tavurvur's activity subsided following the Strombolian eruption of 1 June (BGVN 22:05). The eruption's main episode peaked at about 1452 on 1 June, achieving a RSAM value of 645 units. Activity then dropped briefly but picked up again. The second RSAM peak at about 1612 on 1 June did not get higher than the first one; afterwards, activity decayed exponentially and at about 2300 on 1 June reached a background low of 30 RSAM units.

As the activity decayed there were loud explosions that sent dark ash clouds ~ 2 km above the summit. Explosions decreased in number and intensity until 14 June. For the remaining part of the month, Tavurvur both continuously and gently emitted thin white with blue vapors.

During the month a total of nine high-frequency earthquakes occurred. Only one of them was reliably located in the caldera's SE quadrant, a common zone of epicenters. The other events were not reliably located (due to a lack of operating seismic stations), but probably occurred outside the caldera to the E (1 event), NW (6), and W (1). Harmonic tremor with durations of a few minutes to about an hour occurred in June. These followed the main eruption episode of 1 June and on 4, 6, 9, 10,11, and 21 June.

The electronic tiltmeter at Matupit Island indicated WSW-directed tilt in the latter half of May. At the beginning of June, the tilt direction drifted to the SW, suggesting inflation to Tavurvur's N. This inflation continued until the 14th; tilt during this interval amounted to 34 microrad. After the 14th, the tilt direction drifted back to WSW, radial to Tavurvur; in this orientation the tilt changed by 20 microrad. Tilt changed little during 19-30 June.

During June, the water-tube tiltmeter at Sulphur Creek (near Rabaul Town's S margin, 3.5 km NW of Tavurvur) suggested inflation centered to Tavurvur's N. During June, the electronic tiltmeter on the S part of the Vulcan headland indicated inflation in the central caldera (S of Matupit Island). Similar observations preceded the last few Strombolian eruption episodes.

Reference. Lauer, S.E., 1995, Pumice and ash: a personal account of the 1994 Rabaul volcanic eruptions: Quality Plus Printers Pty. Ltd., Ballina, Australia, 80 p.

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: Ben Talai, Rabaul Volcano Observatory (RVO), P.O. Box 386, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.