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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — March 2000

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 25, no. 3 (March 2000)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Minor ash emissions resume on 7 March, escaping from multiple vents

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2000. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 25:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200003-241040.

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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)


Minor eruptive activity recommenced on 7 March when a vent on the ridge SW of PeeJay vent began producing very weak ash emissions. Following reports from tour operators of ash emissions and the progressive failure of the transmission signal from the island, a visit by IGNS scientists was made on 9 March to ascertain the status of the eruptive activity and repair the seismic system.

When they arrived on the island, a weak, ash-charged gas plume rose ~1,500 m above the vent before being blown downwind >40 km. Viewing conditions within the Main Crater area were excellent. The steam-and-ash cloud was being fed from four vents on the ridge SW of the May 1991 embayment. PeeJay vent also was active in this area during 1999. Two of the vents on the ridge continuously emitted light brown ash while the other two emitted vivid white gas plumes. There was no evidence of ash accumulating on the Main Crater floor or on the outer flanks of the cone, indicating insignificant total ash emission; there was also no evidence of impact craters. Moderate convection was present in the crater lake, although there was no discoloration of the lake, which remained a bright green color with light gray surface slicks.

COSPEC flights were conducted on 10 and 17 March to measure the SO2 flux within the gas plume. The results indicated an average estimated flux of 2,256 metric tons/day, the highest SO2 values ever recorded from White Island. Despite a significant change in SO2 flux, a prominent 1,500-m-high gas plume, and a phase of sustained but very minor ash discharge, there had not been any associated seismic activity or visible escalation of activity as of 21 March.

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 and Brent Alloway, Wairakei Research Center, Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (IGNS), Private Bag 2000, Wairakei, New Zealand (URL: http://www.gns.cri.nz/).