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Report on Ruapehu (New Zealand) — February 1992


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 17, no. 2 (February 1992)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Ruapehu (New Zealand) Crater lake temperature increases, then small explosions through lake; strong seismicity

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1992. Report on Ruapehu (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 17:2. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199202-241100


New Zealand

39.28°S, 175.57°E; summit elev. 2797 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Low activity and low water temperatures (14-17°C) persisted at Crater Lake through October-December, and seismicity was at background levels. There was no apparent eruptive activity during this time, although moderately strong upwelling continued over the lake's N vents, producing a yellow slick on 11 October. Upwelling was also occasionally observed above the lake's central vents.

A sharp increase in Crater Lake water temperature began in early January. Temperatures paused at ~20°C from 7 to 21 January, then rose at an even higher rate (1.1°/day), reaching 36°C by 8 February (figure 12). Strong sulfur odors were noted at the lake on 3 January, and 9 km N (in Whakapapa Village) during still air and clear weather on 5 February.

During a midday 8 February overflight, January Clayton-Green (Dept of Conservation) reported a gray slick surrounded by blue-green water in the center of Crater Lake, but no anomalous upwelling. Later that day (1500-1600), shortly after the start of a sequence of 30-40 volcanic earthquakes (at 1458; figure 13), Rob McCallum (DOC) observed upwelling 45-60 cm high that produced a surge over the lake's outlet. Agitation of the water was reported as "lasting some time." The next day, McCallum noted that the lake was entirely gray (at 0900), and that a strong sulfur odor was present. Bruce Williams (a Mt. Cook Airlines pilot), reported that Crater Lake, viewed from the air, was a typical blue-green on 8-9 February, but became more active on 10 February, and further increased in activity on 11 February.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 13. Daily number of volcanic (top) and tectonic (bottom) earthquakes at Ruapehu, December 91-9 February 92. Courtesy of DSIR.

Vigorous seismicity continued on 9 February, although earthquake magnitudes dropped from just above M 2 on 8 February (maximum M 2.3), to just below M 2. One episode of low-amplitude, 1-Hz tremor was recorded at 0800-0930 on 9 February. Higher frequency (2 Hz) tremor remained at background levels during this part of February.

A team of scientists from DSIR and DOC visited the crater on 11 February from 1000 to 1450. Four small eruptions were observed (at 1023, 1133, 1257, and 1410), each consisting of a sudden updoming of dark gray water over the central vent, possibly rising several meters and affecting an area 10-20 m across, but rapidly obscured by steam. There was little sound except for a "whooshing" from the agitated water. Small waves (<20 cm high at the shoreline) radiated out from the center, and steam rose approximately 100 m before dissipating.

Water temperature reached 39°C, and outflow was 120 l/s on 11 February (compared to <10 l/s on 17 October and 20 November, and 70 l/s on 3 January). Mg/Cl ratios remained stable, ranging from 0.046 to 0.048 since 3 May 1991, although there did appear to be a slight dilution (from 312 to 295 ppm magnesium, and from 6,526 to 6,245 ppm chloride).

Deformation measurements on 11 February indicated a reversal from apparent deflation to inflation. Fieldwork on 17 October and 3 January had indicated slow deflation since 29 August. Similar deformation reversals were recorded during the 8 other discrete heating episodes since 1985.

A small phreatic eruption was observed on 18 February at about 1100, by airplane pilot Darren Kirkland. The event produced a column of steam, and generated waves estimated at 60-90 cm height. Geologists considered the January-February activity to be typical of the volcano's post-1985 periods of minor phreatic activity. . . .

Geological Summary. Ruapehu, one of New Zealand's most active volcanoes, is a complex stratovolcano constructed during at least four cone-building episodes dating back to about 200,000 years ago. The dominantly andesitic 110 km3 volcanic massif is elongated in a NNE-SSW direction and surrounded by another 100 km3 ring plain of volcaniclastic debris, including the Murimoto debris-avalanche deposit on the NW flank. A series of subplinian eruptions took place between about 22,600 and 10,000 years ago, but pyroclastic flows have been infrequent. A single historically active vent, Crater Lake (Te Wai a-moe), is located in the broad summit region, but at least five other vents on the summit and flank have been active during the Holocene. Frequent mild-to-moderate explosive eruptions have occurred in historical time from the Crater Lake vent, and tephra characteristics suggest that the crater lake may have formed as early as 3,000 years ago. Lahars produced by phreatic eruptions from the summit crater lake are a hazard to a ski area on the upper flanks and to lower river valleys.

Information Contacts: P. Otway, DSIR Wairakei.