Logo link to homepage

Report on Ruapehu (New Zealand) — December 1993


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 18, no. 12 (December 1993)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke.

Ruapehu (New Zealand) Cooling trend follows 3 months of high temperatures in the crater lake

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1993. Report on Ruapehu (New Zealand) (Venzke, E., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 18:12. Smithsonian Institution.


New Zealand

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

During a visit by geologists on 10 December, the crater lake was a battleship-gray color with no upwelling or slicks around the main (central) vent. The N vent area exhibited moderate upwelling, possibly slightly stronger than seen in recent months, with yellow slicks. Little or no steam was present, and there was no indication of surging or other eruptive activity. Except for exposed rock near Outlet, the entire lake remained surrounded by snow. A tour operator reported similar conditions following a visit on 4 December, although the N vent area was not observed. A commercial pilot reported that on the morning of 19 December there was extensive ash staining on the snow down the E side of the mountain, though no steam was visible from the crater lake. A guided party that visited the crater lake later that day observed no evidence of recent activity. The most likely source for the staining is old ash exposed by the recent thaw that was blown across the snow. This phenomenon has been observed frequently at this time of year in the past.

The lake temperature measured at Outlet on 10 December was 26.0°C (see table 3), a drop of 11°C since 4 November. The lake level was estimated to be at least 20 mm below overflow level with evidence of a recent retreat (fresh strandlines). By the next day, scientists repaired the ARGOS satellite telemetry station at the crater lake, which had been inactive since 3 July. The crater lake appears to have been cooling rapidly after approximately 3 months of above-average heatflow. However, temperatures telemetered from the ARGOS station since 10 December indicated minor renewed heating of the lake (an increase of 1.2°C between 11 and 19 December). The recent heating follows a minor increase in volcanic tremor in late November, so it is unclear whether the cooling phase will continue. Lake water analyses (see table 3) show that Mg and Cl concentrations appear to have stabilized following a minorincrease between June and November.

Tremor power output declined to very low levels on 2 October before rising again into the 10-70 W range for the rest of the month. Late in November the power output rose above background levels, reaching 200 W on 21 November. Several small earthquakes, mostly A-type, but some B-type events, were recorded by the Dome seismograph, especially in late November.

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, IGNS Wairakei.