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

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 24, no. 12 (December 1999)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Report from 5 January visit by videographers

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, 24:12. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199912-241040.

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Whakaari/White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 294 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


The following report from Stephen and Donna O'Meara relates their visit to White Island on 5 January 2000. They spent ~2.5 hours (0845 to 1115) around and inside the active central crater complex.

On an exceptionally clear day the steam plume rose 400-600 m above sea level before strong winds blew it to the E. The source of the main wind-blown plume came from the center of the active crater complex, though steam from fumaroles near the complex's base at the W and E walls added to the steam column's thickness at times. When seen from a distance at sea, the total column thickness changed from thick to thin at roughly 15-minute intervals.

A few bubbling springs in small ravines were observed on the floor of the active central crater complex near Donald Mound. A lime-green crater lake with slightly scalloped edges filled the 1978/1990 Crater Complex. A semicircular region around the PeeJay vent area and much of the adjacent wall to the N and S was active. The entire region produced vigorously jetting gas and steam from many single vents and craters with multiple vents. Veins of steam laced the entire lake and skated across the surface in the wind. The source of the steam appeared to be not only the highly active area on the NE side of the Complex, but submerged fumaroles in and around the entire crater lake.

Activity in and around the lake did not occur simultaneously. Individual vents turned on or shut down independently. When most vigorous, jetting from the PeeJay area could be heard several hundred meters away. The plume was very acidic and gas masks were required when the winds shifted. A videotape was made of the activity on the NE side of the crater. Photographs show small changes in activity around the entire lake circumference, including changes at submerged fumaroles on the W side of the Crater Complex. Exploration of the E side of the active Crater Complex found several small mud volcanoes, powerful fumaroles, and bubbling springs.

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: Stephen and Donna O'Meara, Volcano Watch International, PO Box 218, Volcano, HI 96785, USA.