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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — May 1995

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 20, no. 5 (May 1995)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Fumarolic activity increases and lake level rises in Wade Crater

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1995. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (Venzke, E., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 20:5. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199505-241040.

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Whakaari/White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 294 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


During April and May the fumarole emission rates increased in Wade Crater, but no significant eruptive activity occurred. On occasions, emissions from the large fumarole on the rear wall carried some fine ash. A ship anchored at the island was lightly coated with ash on 4 April. Donald Mound had some evidence for new tephra deposits, although this was hard to ascertain due to recent heavy rains.

By the time of the 26 May visit by IGNS scientists, the lake level in Wade Crater had risen ~12-15 m relative to March levels. This followed an ~15 m rise between 11 November 1994 and 27 February 1995 (BGVN 20:04). The lake appeared a gray-brown color with some small dark brown slicks on the surface. Despite the lack of convection during January-March, surface convection was observed in the central part of the lake near the W wall. The profuse area of fumaroles on the W wall, in the May 1991 embayment, had formed into one large, very audible vent. Fumaroles on the divide between Wade Crater and TV1 showed little change.

TV1 Crater was still occupied on 26 May by a calm, pale blue lake with several brown surface slicks. The water level in TV1 Crater was higher than in March. Princess Crater continued to shallow, due to the increased amount of debris washing into it.

The margin of the 1978/90 Crater Complex continued to structurally fail. Several small-scale mud and rock debris flows had moved down the Main Crater walls. Despite tour operator observations of weak ash emissions, there were no tephra preserved on the Main Crater floor.

Geologic Background. The uninhabited Whakaari/White Island 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 SE side of the crater is open at sea level, with the recent activity centered about 1 km from the shore close to the rear crater wall. Volckner Rocks, sea stacks that are remnants of a lava dome, lie 5 km NW. Descriptions of volcanism since 1826 have included intermittent moderate phreatic, phreatomagmatic, and Strombolian eruptions; activity there also forms a prominent part of Maori legends. The formation of many new vents during the 19th and 20th centuries caused 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. The official government name Whakaari/White Island is a combination of the full Maori name of Te Puia o Whakaari ("The Dramatic Volcano") and White Island (referencing the constant steam plume) given by Captain James Cook in 1769.

Information Contacts: B.J. Scott, Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (IGNS), Private Bag 2000, Wairakei, New Zealand.