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Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) — July 1998


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 23, no. 7 (July 1998)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) Increase in Vulcanian activity during last week of June

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1998. Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 23:7. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199807-252140


Papua New Guinea

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Low-level Vulcanian eruptive activity continued at Tavurvur in June but increased somewhat during the last week of the month. During the first three weeks of June the volcano emitted small pale-gray clouds with a low ash content that rose 600-1,000 m above sea level. These emissions were usually accompanied by weak (or sometimes loud) roaring and rumbling sounds and caused light ashfalls in all but the E areas of Rabaul Town. The activity was consistent during these weeks but was interrupted by two moderately loud explosions heard at 1943 on 5 June and at 0306 on 9 June. Both explosions produced thick dark-gray ash columns rising to 3,000 m above sea level accompanied by glowing lava fragments.

The style of eruption changed in the last week of June. Beginning on 24 June, ash emissions became very small in volume but were extended over longer intervals. This period of relative quiet was followed by four weak explosions on 25-26 June that produced ash columns rising to 1,500 m. This activity persisted: dense ash-producing explosions occurred at 0408 on 27 June, 0403 on 28 June, and at 0355 and 1825 on 30 June. Ash clouds resulting from the explosions rose to 3,000 m and glowing lava fragments showered the flanks and base of Tavurvur cone.

Seismic activity was low in June according to data recorded about 2 km from Tavurvur's summit (at station KPTH). During the month a total of 1,029 low-frequency events were recorded, a significant decrease compared to 3,265 in May. Most of these events were recorded during the first three weeks of the month with an average of ~46 per day. At the end of the month daily totals decreased to only two per day. On some days throughout June, periods of short-duration tremor were recorded. Only three high-frequency earthquakes were recorded, but they were too small to be located. The sequence of arrivals at the recording stations suggested the events occurred outside the caldera.

Ground deformation data showed that the recovery (inflationary) trend observed in late May continued through June. For June, an accumulation of ~6 µrads inflation was recorded by the Sulphur Creek water tube tiltmeter, located 3.5 km NW of Tavurvur.

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 (RVO), P.O. Box 386, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.