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Report on Ambrym (Vanuatu) — November 1997


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 22, no. 11 (November 1997)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Ambrym (Vanuatu) August visit reveals lava fountains, Strombolian explosions

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1997. Report on Ambrym (Vanuatu) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 22:11. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199711-257040



16.25°S, 168.12°E; summit elev. 1334 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

During 5-13 August 1997, a team from the Société de Volcanologie Genève (SVG) observed Ambrym caldera and deployed an infrared (1.55 µm wavelength) optical pyrometer (Optix-G, Keller GMBH., Ibbenburen-Lagenbeck). Temperatures of lavas were estimated from the pyrometer by measuring emissivity factors of lavas heated to known temperatures in an oven. In some cases comparisons were also made with a thermocouple on the floor of Marum crater (contact the authors regarding procedures and results).

At Benbow cone, most activity, including lava fountaining, occurred inside the S part of the crater. A deep crater in the cone's N flank emitted a large amount of hot, very concentrated gas. The crater bottom was not visible; however, strong night glow revealed the proximity of magma.

At Marum cone, three different craters were active during the SVG visit. At Mbwelesu, the main crater, two closely spaced openings full of lava were visible from the rim. The lava surface was continuously overturned by fountains that were tens of meters high. The maximum temperature of the chimney opening was estimated with the optical pyrometer at 910°C. The pyrometer measurement was taken on the NNE side of the crater rim under conditions of good visibility and strong degassing.

At Niri Mbwelesu, a secondary crater close to Mbwelesu's rim, strong degassing was observed. Although the crater was often full of vapor, occasionally the bottom was visible. A small, elongated lake surrounded by fumaroles was seen in the crater near a glowing opening that was emitting pulses of hot gas; however, magma was not directly observed.

Inside Niri Mbwelesu Taten, a small collapse pit (169 x 185 m; 140 m deep) to the S of Niri Mbwelesu, Strombolian explosions were observed until 7 August. The explosions lasted a few hours, stopped, then resumed a few hours later. The explosions were caused by the bursting of magma bubbles 2-3 m in diameter as they reached the surface. The noise from the explosions could be heard a few kilometers away. Shock waves were sometimes observed in the cloud above the pit. The maximum temperature of liquid lava inside the pit was estimated with the optical pyrometer at 964°C. Pyrometer measurements were taken standing on the S border of the crater rim under conditions of good visibility. Maximum temperature estimates on liquid lava varied between ~935°C and 965°C.

In addition, the team measured rain acidity at different sites inside the caldera. A clear gradient was found: the rain had a pH of 2 on the Benbow crater rim and a pH of 4 close to the caldera's border.

Geological Summary. Ambrym, a large basaltic volcano with a 12-km-wide caldera, is one of the most active volcanoes of the New Hebrides Arc. A thick, almost exclusively pyroclastic sequence, initially dacitic then basaltic, overlies lava flows of a pre-caldera shield volcano. The caldera was formed during a major Plinian eruption with dacitic pyroclastic flows about 1,900 years ago. Post-caldera eruptions, primarily from Marum and Benbow cones, have partially filled the caldera floor and produced lava flows that ponded on the floor or overflowed through gaps in the caldera rim. Post-caldera eruptions have also formed a series of scoria cones and maars along a fissure system oriented ENE-WSW. Eruptions have apparently occurred almost yearly during historical time from cones within the caldera or from flank vents. However, from 1850 to 1950, reporting was mostly limited to extra-caldera eruptions that would have affected local populations.

Information Contacts: P. Vetch and S. Haefeli, Société de Volcanologie Genève (SVG), C.P. 298, CH-1225, Chene-bourg, Switzerland.