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Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) — July 1996


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 21, no. 7 (July 1996)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) Tavurvur eruption continues; seismic activity increases

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1996. Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 21:7. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199607-252140


Papua New Guinea

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

During the first two weeks of July, Tavurvur emitted pale to medium gray clouds with low to moderate ash contents every 2-8 minutes. Some emissions were accompanied by roaring and weak explosion sounds. Projections of glowing lava fragments were observed at night. Eruptive activity changed on 13 June, when the rate of ash emissions decreased, and discrete, moderate to large explosions took place at longer intervals (about every 1-5 hours). The explosions emitted medium gray clouds with moderate ash contents, which rose to a height of 2-3 km before being blown to the N. Large lava blocks fell on the flanks of Tavurvur as far as the shoreline. After 13 June the rate of emissions increased slightly and ash clouds were released at variable intervals (minutes to hours). Few audible sounds accompanied the emissions. Between ash emissions, Tavurvur was generally quiet and continuously released bluish white vapor in low to moderate volumes. During July light ashfall was observed in Rabaul Town and the areas to its N.

Seismicity was at a moderate level for the first half of July. This was a continuation of the increased activity that began 29 June. Seismicity declined after 16 July, and remained low until the end of July. In total, 2,384 explosion earthquakes and three tremors were recorded in July, higher than those in June (1,565 explosion earthquakes and 10 tremors). On 29 July a sequence of high-frequency earthquakes began NE of the caldera. During a period of two and a half days (29-31 July), about 300 earthquakes took place. In a NE-trending zone crossing the caldera, 69 high-frequency earthquakes were recorded and the strongest one had a magnitude of about 3.0. In addition, five other high-frequency earthquakes took place elsewhere in the caldera.

An electronic tiltmeter on Matupit Island (2.5 km W of Tavurvur) recorded a deflationary tilt of 27 µrad towards Tavurvur during 23 June-31 July. A low inflationary tilt towards Tavurvur occurred after 3 July, but deflation took place on 27 July and continued until the end of July. Between 3 and 27 July about 20 µrad of inflationary tilt accumulated. On the other side of the caldera, Vulcan remained quiet throughout July and the Vulcan headland continued its slow deflation (<5 µrad/month tilt and 1 cm/month subsidence).

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: B. Talai, D. Lolok, and C. McKee, Rabaul Volcano Observatory (RVO), P.O. Box 386, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.