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Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) — January 1996


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

Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) Explosive eruptions from Tavurvur

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1996. Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 21:1. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199601-252140


Papua New Guinea

4.2459°S, 152.1937°E; summit elev. 688 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Low-level activity from Tavurvur throughout January continued with plumes containing low to moderate ash contents. The plumes were released at intervals of 3-10 minutes, sometimes accompanied by weak roaring or explosion sounds. Incandescent lava fragments were ejected during some ash emissions. Large explosions occurred on 3 (2), 17 (2), 19 (1), and 24 (1) January. These explosions deposited lava blocks, as large as 60-80 cm in diameter, 1-1.5 km from the vent. The plumes rose 400-1,000 m above Tavurvur and were generally blown SE, but sometimes in a broad arc extending from the SW to the N. Ashfalls were recorded at Talwat village, in the Kokopo area, and in Rabaul Town. No vapor emissions were observed from Vulcan.

Seismicity was higher in January compared to December, with three high-frequency earthquakes, 2,401 low-frequency earthquakes, and 1,404 explosion events. Discontinuous non-harmonic tremor also occurred during the month. High-frequency earthquakes that could be located occurred NE of the caldera. Except for three low-frequency earthquakes, which originated NW of the caldera, all the other seismicity was associated with eruptive activity at Tavurvur. The increase in the number of both types of events was also accompanied by an increase in their amplitudes.

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: Ben Talai, Rabaul Volcano Observatory, P.O. Box 386, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.