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Report on Ruapehu (New Zealand) — January 1996


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 21, no. 1 (January 1996)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Ruapehu (New Zealand) Geochemical analyses of lake water; record glacial retreat continues

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1996. Report on Ruapehu (New Zealand) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 21:1. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199601-241100


New Zealand

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

No significant eruptions are known to have occurred at Ruapehu since November 1995. During a crater lake inspection on 18 January 1996, in conditions of limited visibility, the crater floor was occupied by a 70-m diameter lake whose surface lay around 80 m below the overflow level. The lake was chiefly green-gray in color; the E part of the lake, beneath Pyramid Peak, was mostly clear. Vigorous fumaroles were present above the lake s W and N shores, and beneath Pyramid Peak. At the Peak s foot, new crater wall exposures revealed 20 m of steep fans composed of ash and deposits tentatively identified as lake sediments. Both of these deposits were being dissected and eroded into mudflows. A zone of 1995 ejecta, 5 m thick, included a scoria-and-block unit (probably erupted on 11 October) and fine-medium ash layers. Glaciers in the crater basin and Whangaehu continued their rapid, and in the experience of the IGNS observers, unprecedented, retreat.

A tilt-leveling survey was conducted using four Dome benchmarks falling along a 45-m-long line radial to the crater. The benchmarks had moved since last measured. Assuming site instability at these benchmarks had developed since the latest pre-eruption survey (April 1994), the Dome s deformation averaged 30 ± 10 µrad deflation.

Both earthquakes and tremor started to decline in mid- October. From 31 October-8 November, long-duration events almost completely ceased, while short-duration events continued unchanged. During the month of November through 18 January, the previously seen 2-Hz tremor ceased, replaced mainly by higher-frequency tremor. This 7-Hz tremor had amplitudes 3-4x higher than seen prior to the commencement of activity in September 1995. Numerous, short-duration high-frequency earthquakes continued to be recorded at the Dome station through December, January, and into February 1996, defining Ruapehu s most recent background seismicity.

Maximum fumarole temperatures in one area (station A, beneath peg I) had fallen from 281°C (December 6, 1995) to 92 °C (18 January). Despite the lower temperatures, the discharges were still vigorous but notably water-rich. H2/Ar temperatures fell only slightly over this period (from 397 to 392°C), suggesting that the cooling reflects near-surface quenching by shallow groundwater.

Analytical results for lake water samples are given in Table 10. These include samples taken on 6 December (by sampler suspended from a helicopter), and on 20 December 1995, and 18 January 1996 (from the lakeshore). A dilution trend with time is evident in the data, but it is not clear whether this represents an artifact of sampling or decreased magmatic input into the lake. So far, ratios of SO4/Cl and Mg/Cl show inconsistent trends. Much of the volcano s discharged heat and gases evaded the lake, to be released instead beyond the lake s NE and SW margins. A COSPEC flight on 31 December measured an SO2 flux of 1,295 ± 160 tons/day; this value was presumed to indicate continuing, steady state, open vent degassing.

Table 10. Lake water temperature and chemical analyses from Ruapehu, 6 and 20 December 1995, and 18 January 1996. Courtesy of IGNS.

Date Lake Temp (°C) Mg SO4 Cl SO4/Cl Mg/Cl
06 Dec 1995 57.7 903 11400 12536 0.909 0.072
20 Dec 1995 60.0 615 7070 8127 0.870 0.076
18 Jan 1996 49.6 367 5780 5664 1.021 0.065

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 NW-flank Murimoto debris-avalanche deposit. A series of subplinian eruptions took place between about 22,600 and 10,000 years ago, but pyroclastic flows have been infrequent. The broad summait area and flank contain at least six vents active during the Holocene. Frequent mild-to-moderate explosive eruptions have been recorded from the Te Wai a-Moe (Crater Lake) vent, and tephra characteristics suggest that the crater lake may have formed as recently as 3,000 years ago. Lahars resulting from phreatic eruptions at the summit crater lake are a hazard to a ski area on the upper flanks and lower river valleys.

Information Contacts: P.M. Otway, S. Sherburn, and I.A. Nairn, Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences (IGNS), Private Bag 2000, Wairakei, New Zealand.