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Report on White Island (New Zealand) — December 1990

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 15, no. 12 (December 1990)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

White Island (New Zealand) Fumarolic activity; no tephra since 2 October

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1990. Report on White Island (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 15:12. Smithsonian Institution.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 294 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


Fieldwork 28-29 November revealed no new ejecta that appeared to have been erupted from 1978/90 or Donald Duck craters since the 2 October ash emission. The 1978/90 crater rim had retreated since last precisely recorded on 30 August, and just intersected Donald Mound Crater. The collapse of 1978/90 crater rim had occurred over its entire length. Blocks ejected from both TV1 and Donald Duck craters had no ash cover. In 1978/90 Crater, a large green pond had been re-established in the R.F. Crater area, where only mild fumarolic activity was occurring. Strong fumarolic emission occured from the N wall of 1978/90 crater. Brecciated lava was exposed by the collapse of the E wall (above TV1 Crater) suggesting that Donald Mound is formed by a large lava body. Samples of this lava were collected for petrographic and geochemical study.

A levelling survey indicated >30 mm of deflation since 30 August. The 2 October ash emission appeared to have had little effect on deformation trends.

Recorded seismicity has been relatively low since the 2 October eruption. High- and low-frequency earthquakes (A- and B-types) rarely exceeded 2-3/day and all were very small. Two E-type (eruption) events were recorded (6 and 11 November), and a M 4.2 earthquake and six aftershocks, centered 20 km NNE of White Island, were recorded 24 November. Only two earthquakes were known to have been recorded by the portable seismographs operated during the 28-29 November fieldwork.

Geologic Background. The uninhabited White Island, also known as Whakaari in the Maori language, 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 summit crater appears to be breached to the SE, because the shoreline corresponds to the level of several notches in the SE crater wall. Volckner Rocks, sea stacks that are remnants of a lava dome, lie 5 km NW. Descriptions of eruptions since 1826 have included intermittent moderate phreatic, phreatomagmatic, and Strombolian eruptions; activity there also forms a prominent part of Maori legends. Formation of many new vents during the 19th and 20th centuries has produced 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.

Information Contacts: J. Cole, Univ of Canterbury,Christchurch; I. Nairn and B. Scott, DSIR Geology & Geophysics, Rotorua; P. Otway and S. Sherburn, DSIR Geology & Geophysics, Wairakei.