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Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) — May 1994


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 19, no. 5 (May 1994)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) Seismicity increases and uplift continues

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1994. Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 19:5. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199405-252140


Papua New Guinea

4.271°S, 152.203°E; summit elev. 688 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

"During May, 694 earthquakes were detected, compared to 397 in April and 458 in March. Of these, 51 earthquakes were located, 28 with errors <1 km.

"Seismic activity was low until 25 May; it consisted of small swarms and discrete events. On 25 May, Rabaul was subjected to its strongest seismic activity in about a year. Starting at 1043, earthquakes were felt for ~20 minutes. The maximum felt intensity was in the airport region, IV-V on the modified Mercalli scale. Two spatially separated swarms were involved. The first, including an ML 3.3 earthquake, was located in a linear zone between the airport region and Vulcan. The second swarm, which included an ML 3.0 earthquake, started ~15 minutes after the first. The second swarm was located just off the E shore of Vulcan and Vulcan Island, near the site of swarm activity in February and April (19:2-3). Both swarms were shallow (< 2 km), consistent with previous activity in these areas. Seismic activity at both centers continued throughout the rest of the day at a declining rate.

"For the rest of the month, seismic activity consisted of small and discrete events, probably located in the same region as the large swarms on the 25th. On the 26th there were two earthquakes just off the SW shore of Matupit Island, at depths around 2.2 km. These locations are not on the ring fault system.

"At 0212 on 26 May, a low-frequency earthquake was recorded on the harbor network. The signal had dominant frequencies around 1 Hz and probably originated near Matupit Island. There may have been as many as 10 similar events in the 24-hour period following the felt earthquakes.

"Routine leveling on 27 May showed that about 35-40 mm of uplift had taken place at the S end of Matupit Island since . . . 2 May. Additional leveling to Vulcan Point on 30 May showed an uplift of ~30 mm since September 1993."

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 688-m-high asymmetrical pyroclastic 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 1400 years ago. An earlier caldera-forming eruption about 7100 years ago is now considered to have originated from Tavui caldera, offshore to the north. Three small stratovolcanoes lie outside the northern and NE caldera rims. Post-caldera eruptions built basaltic-to-dacitic pyroclastic cones on the caldera floor near the NE and western 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: I. Itikarai and C. McKee, RVO.