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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — February 1999

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 24, no. 2 (February 1999)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Minor ash-and-steam emissions continue

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1999. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 24:2. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199902-241040.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


Whakaari/White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 294 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


Volcanic-tremor levels on White Island (BGVN 23:10-23:12 and 24:01) have remained low since 22 January and low-level eruptive activity continued through mid-March. On 12 February, the low-energy hydrothermal activity within Metra Crater was dominated by gas-and-steam emissions from small fumaroles on the N and W sides of the crater. Four small ponds had formed on the crater floor. A weak gas (SO2) and steam plume from PeeJay Vent rose 400-500 m, forming haze visible 40-50 km away.

During a visit by C.P. Wood on 13 March activity was generally constant with the ash-and-steam column rising to ~ 1,060 m and drifting many kilometers downwind, with sea discoloration from fall-out evident to 1 km from the island. PeeJay Vent was continuously emitting ash-charged gray-brown steam, but with varying intensity. During peak discharges, observers standing on the 1978/90 Crater Complex edge noted a rumbling noise from PeeJay, but no block ejection was seen. The vent diameter appeared to have increased and was an obvious funnel shape lined with whitish sublimate deposits. Ash could not be collected because of the wind direction. Metra Crater was occupied by a lurid lime-green lake, which largely filled the original crater and peripheral scallops to ~ 1 m below the rim (the old lake floor). There was no sign of thermal disturbance in the Metra lakelet. The ash surface throughout Main Crater was rain-washed and smooth (except for the route used by tourist operators), with no sign of recent impact craters near the 1978/90 Crater Complex edge.

Geologic Background. The uninhabited Whakaari/White Island is the 2 x 2.4 km emergent summit of a 16 x 18 km submarine volcano in the Bay of Plenty about 50 km offshore of North Island. The island consists of two overlapping andesitic-to-dacitic stratovolcanoes. The SE side of the crater is open at sea level, with the recent activity centered about 1 km from the shore close to the rear crater wall. Volckner Rocks, sea stacks that are remnants of a lava dome, lie 5 km NW. Descriptions of volcanism since 1826 have included intermittent moderate phreatic, phreatomagmatic, and Strombolian eruptions; activity there also forms a prominent part of Maori legends. The formation of many new vents during the 19th and 20th centuries caused rapid changes in crater floor topography. Collapse of the crater wall in 1914 produced a debris avalanche that buried buildings and workers at a sulfur-mining project. Explosive activity in December 2019 took place while tourists were present, resulting in many fatalities. The official government name Whakaari/White Island is a combination of the full Maori name of Te Puia o Whakaari ("The Dramatic Volcano") and White Island (referencing the constant steam plume) given by Captain James Cook in 1769.

Information Contacts: Brad Scott, Wairakei Research Centre, Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (IGNS) Limited, Private Bag 2000, Wairakei, New Zealand (URL: http://www.gns.cri.nz/).