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Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) — August 1996


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 21, no. 8 (August 1996)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) Vulcan quiet, Tavurvur mildly explosive

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1996. Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 21:8. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199608-252140


Papua New Guinea

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Vulcan was quiet during August but the continuing eruption at Tavurvur was characterized by periods of frequent minor explosions and occasional large discrete explosions. During the first two days of the month, Tavurvur had minor explosions emitting ash and vapor at irregular intervals. Some sequences of subcontinuous mild explosive activity went on for tens of minutes.

On 3 August, activity returned to the style seen for the first 5 months of the eruption (i.e. mild ash and vapor emissions at shorter, 1-6 minute, intervals). This was the dominant mode of eruption through the rest of the month.

However, there were occasional large discrete explosions and sometimes sequences of these events. Specifically, there were explosions on the 5th (2), 8th (1), 11th (2), 15th (5), 22nd (6), 25th (1), and 26th (5). Ash-and-vapor clouds produced by these explosions rose to ~2-4 km above the vent. Commonly, the vent would clear of all emissions for tens of minutes to several hours prior to the explosions. Following the explosions were periods of frequent and even continuous ash and vapor emissions.

A decline in the ash content of the background emissions was noted on the 14th, and at the same time the intervals between emissions lengthened to as much as 30 minutes. However, on the 15th, the emissions became more frequent again. On the 17th, there were prolonged ash and vapor emissions. A further decline in the ash content of the emissions was observed from the 18th, as the clouds became very pale gray to off-white. On the last two days of the month, the emissions were almost pure white.

Seismicity was somewhat stronger in August than in previous months. Altogether there were 2,770 low-frequency (explosion) earthquakes recorded, compared with 1,565 in June and 2,384 in July. Although there were short-term irregularities in the rate of these events, over the longer term the events were fairly evenly distributed.

The electronic tiltmeter at Matupit Island (2 km W of Tavurvur) recorded inflationary tilt (~20 µrad) that took place between 3 and 27 July. A slight deflationary tilt (~4 µrad) was seen during August. There was a rapid drift of ~45 µrad on one component of the tiltmeter on 10 August.

Measurements of SO2 concentration in the emissions using a correlation spectrometer (COSPEC) instrument showed an overall increasing trend until late August. At the beginning of the month the concentration-path lengths were ~500 ppm-m. A peak of ~900 ppm-m was reached before the series of explosions on the 26th, after which the values declined to between 200 and 400 ppm-m during the last five days of the month.

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 688-m-high asymmetrical pyroclastic 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 1400 years ago. An earlier caldera-forming eruption about 7100 years ago is now considered to have originated from Tavui caldera, offshore to the north. Three small stratovolcanoes lie outside the northern and NE caldera rims. Post-caldera eruptions built basaltic-to-dacitic pyroclastic cones on the caldera floor near the NE and western 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: C. McKee and B. Talai Rabaul Volcano Observatory (RVO), P.O. Box 385, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.