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Report on Ruapehu (New Zealand) — March 1994

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 19, no. 3 (March 1994)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Ruapehu (New Zealand) Minor phreatic eruptions from crater lake

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1994. Report on Ruapehu (New Zealand) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 19:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199403-241100.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


New Zealand

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Crater Lake underwent a strong heating phase beginning in mid-January (see figure 15) that resulted in minor phreatic eruptions in February and March [but see 19:05]. The heating phase accompanied and followed a period of increased volcanic tremor, briefly enhanced acoustic noise levels, and minor inflation.

Following 2-3 days of elevated 2-Hz acoustic signal, temperatures at a depth of 20 m off Logger Point suddenly began rising on 9 January. Temperature increases of 6-9°C at 20 m depths, coupled with a lack of significant upwelling, suggested that the lake was stratified, with the upper layer disconnected from convection at depth. A new temperature logger was installed on 18 January, 4 m NE of Logger Point, to record at a depth of 1-2 m. Temperatures peaked around 18 February after rises of 19°C at 20 m depth (to 47°C) and ~14°C on the surface at Outlet (to 39°C). In March the temperature at 20-m depth declined at a steady rate of 0.5°C/day, but then stabilized. Various reports received by IGNS indicated minor phreatic eruptions, consisting primarily of steam clouds, on 12 February, on 1, 5, 7, and 31 March, and on 1 April. The 7 March activity consisted of a sudden upwelling near the center of the lake that created waves and a steam column.

No evidence of upwelling over the main vent in the battleship-gray crater lake was detected during fieldwork on 18 and 28 January, 11-12 March, and 22-23 March. On 28 January the N vent area exhibited one extremely weak convection cell surrounded by scattered yellow slicks; at least three clearly defined cells are normally present at this location. Moderately strong meltwater inflows and occasional minor ice-falls were seen on both January visits. Very weak convection with thin surface slicks was observed in the N vent area on 12 March. New snow that fell on 8 March was undisturbed close to the N shore, precluding any surging since then. Sulfur strandlines had formed 10-20 cm above lake level near Outlet, also indicative of little recent activity. However, fresh deposits of mud (2-3 cm thick) were observed at Outlet on 12 March. Strong convection had resumed by 22-23 March at several sites over the N vent, after a 2-3 month period of very weak convection. Large yellow slicks from that area were clearly visible when washed up around the shore. The lake had risen to overflow level, but the outflow rate appeared low. Convection at the N vent area was less pronounced on 28 March.

Volcanic tremor remained at background levels in November-December 1993 after declining steadily from a peak value in late August. Tremor power began increasing again in mid-December, peaked at ~8,000 watts on 7 January, and remained high (~3,000 watts) through early February. Dominant frequency remained in the 2-3 Hz range. Signal noise interrupted power records in mid-February, but drum records indicated that tremor remained high until late February. No reliable tremor data were obtained in March. Following few recorded volcanic earthquakes in November, the number of A- and B-type events increased in mid-December and mid-January. Several distinct B-type events were recorded at the dome station in January. On average, 10 B-type events/day were detected in the second half of February, but they decreased in number during March.

Minor inflation between 4 November and 18 January increased the crater width to equal the relatively high value measured in early 1992, a period of strong lake heating and minor eruptions. The crater remained inflated on 12 March, but had deflated somewhat by 28 March. The most significant change in January was the westward shift (28 mm) of a station on the W side of the crater lake, which is typical of seasonal movement recorded at that location over the last 5 years; it had almost returned to its original position by 12 March. The movement was most likely due to ground thawing or relief from snow loading rather than from volcanic influences.

Geologic Background. 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.