Logo link to homepage

Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) — August 1995


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 20, no. 8 (August 1995)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) Intracaldera cones quiet, but nearby earthquake triggers local seismicity

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1995. Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 20:8. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199508-252140


Papua New Guinea

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Although Rabaul remained quiet in August, the region was subjected to a strong tectonic earthquake (Ms 7.8) followed by associated aftershocks. The earthquake struck on 16 August centered ~260 km SE of Rabaul. In Rabaul the earthquake struck at 2027 with a modified Mercalli (MM) intensity of V, causing some minor landslides and the collapse of a few buildings.

The earthquake triggered noteworthy responses at the caldera. On 16 August there were 24 high-frequency events, and, as late as 23 August, 3-9 additional events/day; in July there were 7 high-frequency earthquakes (M <1). On 22 August, one event was felt by residents. With an approximate magnitude of ML 2.8, this was the first felt caldera earthquake since the early phase of Rabaul's September 1994 eruption.

These high-frequency earthquakes occurred mostly in the NE part of the caldera (Namanula Hill area). In contrast, throughout the period of heightened seismicity the number of low-frequency earthquakes remained low, peaking on 30-31 August at 10 and 26 events, respectively. For comparison, during July low-frequency events occurred 11 times. The August low-frequency earthquakes appeared to originate from within or just outside the N caldera area.

During the first half of the month ground deformation remained below the measurable level. Following the Ms 7.8 earthquake, electronic and water-tube tiltmeters recorded offsets as large as 90 µrad. The offsets suggested subsidence in the central part of the caldera with the outer rim remaining stationary. As of 15 September, adequate elevation data were unavailable to confirm the pattern of offset seen in the deformation data.

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 asymmetrical 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 1,400 years ago. An earlier caldera-forming eruption about 7,100 years ago is thought to have originated from Tavui caldera, offshore to the north. Three small stratovolcanoes lie outside the N and NE caldera rims. Post-caldera eruptions built basaltic-to-dacitic pyroclastic cones on the caldera floor near the NE and W 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: Patrice de Saint-Ours and Ben Talai, RVO.