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Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) — February 1997


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 22, no. 2 (February 1997)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) Occasional stronger explosions and a tilt reversal

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1997. Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 22:2. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199702-252140


Papua New Guinea

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

After some strong Strombolian eruptions during January, the Tavurvur cone was more subdued in February. Typically frequent (every few minutes) explosions sent ejecta to <1 km heights. Tephra content varied between explosions and tended to decrease during the course of January. When ejected at night, the tephra glowed.

Stronger explosions took place during 5-8 February and 14-16 February. On 6 February, the day with the highest number of stronger explosions, there were 10 such events. The stronger explosions produced dark gray clouds with highly convoluted forms; the largest clouds rose ~4 km above the vent. As with the smaller explosions, tephra glowed when seen at night. On 8 February an eruption reached ~7 km altitude.

Explosion earthquakes dominated seismicity during February. These 3,287 events during the month were typically low- to moderate-frequency. High-frequency caldera earthquakes took place only six times. Epicenters for the two located events were a few kilometers N of Tavurvur (on Kabiu cone) and in the SSE part of the caldera; both caldera earthquakes had shallow focal depths (5 km).

Sulfur dioxide fluxes from Tavurvur were relatively low on most days in February. In addition, fluxes tended to decline during the month.

Deformation and a forecast. During February, tilt was most apparent in the NE caldera (Sulphur Creek) on a water-tube tiltmeter. Immediately following the deflation associated with the strong Strombolian eruption of 9 January, SE-oriented inflation resumed. Until mid-February, the inflation rate was steady at ~2 µrad/week; this inflation ceased coincident with the second phase of strong explosions from Tavurvur. After that, and continuing until at least early March, deflation occurred with the station slowly tilting towards the SE.

A similar pattern of initial inflation followed by deflation was associated with the strong Strombolian activity of October 1996. On the basis of this comparison, it was forecast that a new Strombolian event would occur in mid-March.

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, H. Patia, D. Lolok, P. de Saint Ours, and C. McKee, Rabaul Volcano Observatory (RVO), P.O. Box 386, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.