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Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) — December 1998


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 23, no. 12 (December 1998)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) Intermittent emissions of ash during November-December

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1998. Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 23:12. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199812-252140


Papua New Guinea

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Eruptive activity was continuous during November and December, dominated by intermittent emissions of small, pale-gray ash clouds from the Tavurvur cone. Some larger ash-laden explosions reached 2.5 km high.

Visual observations. The first 13 days of November were a continuation of the style of activity observed at the end of October (BGVN 23:11) when emissions occurred minutes or hours apart. Ash clouds were usually released quietly, but occasional dark, ash-laden explosions rose 600-1,500 m above the summit. At 1334 and 2019 on 6 November two such explosions occurred: the latter produced an ash column 3 km high and sent pyroclastic flows down the sides of the cone. Moderate explosions were also heard occasionally during 13-23 November, a period of otherwise low activity. On 27 November emissions of dark gray ash at 1712 and 1909 rose ~1,000 m. Emissions subsequently became more frequent, thicker, and darker. Another significant explosion occurred at 1500 on 29 November. Light ashfalls fell mainly to the SE (over the sea), although occasional shifts of wind resulted in ashfalls over populated areas.

Emissions during December also occurred at irregular intervals; however, emissions became more frequent during 5-19 December and at the end of the month. Six large explosions during the month produced dark, ash-laden plumes that rose more than 1,000-1,500 m. Three of these explosions (on the 8, 27, and 29 December) produced ash columns that rose 2,500 m and showered the flanks with lava fragments. The ash was blown mainly to the SE, but some wind changes resulted in fine ashfall over Rabaul. Field observations suggested that the fragments were accidental materials from the vent area. Occasional roaring noises were heard during the month.

Ground deformation. Ground deformations were very slow during both months, though still indicating an uplifting trend that has continued since April 1997. However, sea shore survey measurements showed a reversal, which might be an artifact of the large flow of ocean water westward due to the reversal of El Niño, although this phenomenon is not well understood.

Seismicity. Only 633 low-frequency events were recorded during November; 2,843 were recorded in December. During 10-12 and 29-30 November low-amplitude harmonic signals were recorded. Between 12 and 28 November, the pattern of seismicity was characterized by low-frequency events of low amplitude and long duration. A noticeable emergence of moderate and large explosions (1-3 per day between 14 and 20 November) occurred during this period. A sequence of high-frequency events having an average S-P interval of 3.5 s occurred NE of the caldera during 20-25 November. It was not discovered whether these events were from the usual NE focus of earthquakes (which have had an S-P interval of 1-2.5 s). After 29 November the number and amplitude of the events increased.

A marked increase to a daily average of 100 low-frequency events during 5-19 and 29-31 December was associated with more frequent ash emissions. During 20-28 December ~60 events were recorded daily. Short bands of harmonic tremor were recorded during the second week of December and again on the 18th, 22nd, and 27th. Two high-frequency events were located NE of the caldera.

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: Herman Patia, Rabaul Volcano Observatory (RVO), P.O. Box 386, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.