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Report on Tongariro (New Zealand) — July 2014


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 39, no. 7 (July 2014)
Managing Editor: GVP Staff.

Tongariro (New Zealand) Small eruption on 21 November 2012; subsequent mild degassing and seismicity

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2014. Report on Tongariro (New Zealand) (GVP Staff, ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 39:7. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN201407-241080


New Zealand

39.157°S, 175.632°E; summit elev. 1978 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

A previous report on Tongariro covered the 6-7 August 2012 eruption and subsequent return to quiet (BGVN 37:07). Aside from a short-lived eruptive episode on 21 November 2012, GeoNet Data Centre reported only occasional mild degassing and small earthquakes occurred through August 2013. No further eruptive activity was reported through late 2014.

Activity during 2012. Degassing continued after the August 2012 eruption. Gas flux was relatively low on 29 August; sulfur dioxide emissions were 150 tonnes/day and carbon dioxide flux was 420 tonnes/day. Gas flights on 13 and 18 September revealed sulfur dioxide levels of 980 and 540 tonnes/day, respectively, and carbon dioxide flux of 1,340 tonnes/day on 18 September. The report noted that although the levels were lower than the 2,100 tonnes/day of sulfur dioxide and 3,900 tons of carbon dioxide measured on 9 August, shortly after the eruption, they had increased and were considered significant.

A field team visited the craters on 13 September and noted that Upper Te Maari crater has been widened and deepened by the 6 August eruption. They installed a new webcam pointed directly at the new Te Maari vents.

GeoNet researchers visited the Upper Te Maari Craters on 30 September to sample fumaroles, conduct a carbon dioxide soil gas survey, collect ejecta from the August eruption, and photograph the area (figures 9 and 10). The average carbon dioxide soil gas flux was lower than on 27 July; 24 sites had increased fluxes while 20 had decreased. The estimated soil gas emissions had decreased overall from about 5.8 to 2.5 metric tonnes per day.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 9. View of Te Maari craters at Tongariro looking S on 30 September 2012. Courtesy of GeoNet.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 10. View of Upper Te Maari Crater looking E, 30 September 2012. Courtesy of GeoNet.

On 12 October, GeoNet reported that gas plumes drifting downwind had been detected a hundred kilometers or more away. During the previous two weeks an odor attributed to venting was noticed in Manawatu (112 km S) and Hawke's Bay (120 km ESE). On 30 October the SO2 flux was 154 tonnes per day and the carbon dioxide flux was 477 tonnes per day. Several teams of scientists visited the Te Maari Craters on 5 November to service portable seismometers (complementing four permanent installations), sample gas vents, and collect samples of ejecta. The GeoNet report noted that not many earthquakes had been recorded recently, and that the hottest gas vent was 235° C while the others ranged from 95-104°.

A small eruption at the Te Maari Craters occurred at 1325 on 21 November (figure 11), without precursory events, prompting GeoNet to raise the Volcanic Alert Level to 2 and the Aviation Colour Code to Red. A report at 1730 noted that the eruption appeared to be over; the Aviation Colour Code was lowered to Orange, signaling that ash was no longer being emitted.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 11. An ash plume rose from the Te Maari Crater at Tongariro at 1330 local time, shortly after the 21 November 2012 eruption. Courtesy of Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, Ltd.

The eruption occurred from the same area as the eruption on 6 August and lasted less than five minutes, although local seismic activity lasted about 15 minutes. GNS staff and hikers saw the eruption; an ash plume rose 3-4 km above the Upper Te Maari crater and produced ashfall across part of State Highway 46 and NE towards Turangi (21 km NE). Two small pyroclastic density currents were produced at the base of the column, to the W and N of the crater, and traveled a few hundred meters downslope. Later that afternoon gas-and-steam plumes drifted SE. On 22 November a sulfur gas odor was reported downwind in Manawatu (S) and Hawke's Bay (115 km ESE). A substantial amount of gas was emitted during 22-23 November. The Aviation Colour Code was lowered to Yellow on 23 November due to the absence of emitted ash. On 26 November GeoNet noted that no further volcanic activity had occurred since the eruption, gas flux had decreased, and seismic activity remained low.

Reports during 2013 and 2014. GeoNet reported on 14 February 2013 that no eruptive activity had been detected since the 21 November 2012 explosion. Steam-and-gas plumes rose from the Te Maari Craters, and had been unusually strong during recent weeks possibly due to weather conditions. On 25 March GeoNet reported continued quiescence, but with continuing steam-and-gas plumes. The Aviation Color Code was lowered to Green (second lowest on a 4 four-color scale) and the Volcanic Alert Level remained at 1 (on a scale of 0-5).

On 6 August 2013 small earthquakes were detected beneath Tongariro. These events were recorded only by a few seismic stations and were too small to be precisely located. GNS Science noted that the earthquakes could simply have been part of the background unrest typical of most active volcanoes, but they were of interest because there had been so few since November 2012 and potentially could have signaled changes inside the volcano.

The amounts of CO2 and sulfur gases emitted from Tongariro had remained at low levels since the start of 2013 and were about half the amount produced after the November 2012 explosion. These conditions, and the small number and small size of recent earthquakes, were not sufficient to alter the unrest status of the volcano; the Volcanic Alert remained at Level 1; the Aviation Color Code remained Green.

On 23 December 2013 GeoNet reported that the volcano continued to remain quiet. A few small earthquakes were recorded on the northern flanks at a rate of 2-3 per month. Gas measurements showed SO2 fluxes of about 10-15 tonnes/day, also a low level. Volcanologists also sampled the fumaroles on Te Maari that have been active since the 2012 eruptions; the main fumarole, which often provides strong steam plumes visible from Taupo, was emitting gases at over 400 °C.

A 10 February 2014 survey of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions near Red Crater (~4 km SSW from Te Maari) noted little change since a 2009 survey. In 2009 there was a calculated flux of 47 tonnes per day from the survey area. The result from the February 2014 survey indicated a flux of 39 tonnes per day; the difference was not considered significant. The temperature just below the ground surface was also similar to 2009 values.

Geological Summary. Tongariro is a large volcanic massif, located immediately NE of Ruapehu volcano, that is composed of more than a dozen composite cones constructed over a period of 275,000 years. Vents along a NE-trending zone extending from Saddle Cone (below Ruapehu) to Te Maari crater (including vents at the present-day location of Ngauruhoe) were active during several hundred years around 10,000 years ago, producing the largest known eruptions at the Tongariro complex during the Holocene. North Crater stratovolcano is truncated by a broad, shallow crater filled by a solidified lava lake that is cut on the NW side by a small explosion crater. The youngest cone, Ngauruhoe, is also the highest peak.

Information Contacts: GeoNet, a collaboration between the Earthquake Commission and GNS Science (URL: http://www.geonet.org.nz/); GNS Science, Wairakei Research Center, Private Bag 2000, Taupo 3352, New Zealand (URL: http://www.gns.cri.nz/).