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Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) — August 1988


Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 13, no. 8 (August 1988)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) Increased seismicity; slow inflation continues

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1988. Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 13:8. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198808-252140


Papua New Guinea

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

"Seismicity increased markedly in August with 1392 mostly small, instrumentally detected events recorded. This number is . . . the highest since July 1986 when 1,312 events were recorded. Some very small swarms of larger events included three weakly felt earthquakes of M 2.1 (0055 on the 16th), 2.5 (0855 on the 30th), and 2.1 (1202 on the 30th). The increased seismicity was not due to any sudden crisis but rather to a gradual increase in background level which peaked 16 August with 170 events before returning to a low level after the 30th. The increase is considered to have been a short-term, low-energy change similar to that of April-July 1986 and is not considered to mark the onset of a significant new period of unrest in the caldera. Instead, it may indicate a longer term, slow progression toward the next eruption.

"71 events could be located, most of which were situated in the NW portion of the caldera ring fault between Vulcan and Matupit Island. Smaller concentrations of events also occurred in the NE portion near Tavurvur volcano and to the S in Karavia Bay. Depths ranged from mainly shallow (0.5-3.0 km) near Vulcan to somewhat deeper (1.5-4.5 km) near Tavurvur.

"Ground deformation measurements, which have been indicating a gradual inflationary trend of ~0.5 cm/month in the Greet Harbour area since March, showed no sudden changes. Tilt stations in this area showed inflationary changes of up to 4 µrad and electronic distance measurements detected expansion of up to 11 microstrain during the month. No consistent readings were obtained in the Vulcan-Karavia Bay area."

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: P. Lowenstein and B. Talai, RVO.