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

Whakaari/White Island

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 25, no. 4 (April 2000)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Continuous ash emissions in April; high SO2 and fluctuating tremor

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, 25:4. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200004-241040

Whakaari/White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 294 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Starting on 7 March, White Island displayed minor eruptive activity, elevated seismicity, and higher than normal SO2 gas flux (BGVN 25:03). Staff from the Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences (GNS) who visited on 18 April observed a gas plume, comprised of steam and small amounts of ash, being erupted to 1,300-1,700 m before being blown S. At distances of more than a few kilometers from the island no ash was visible in the plume, although reports from Whakatane indicated that trace amounts of ash fell during the night of 17-18 April. The erupting vent, named MH vent, is ~10 m across. The seismograph at White Island recorded volcanic tremor starting on 6 April 2000, the first significant tremor since April 1999. In addition, recent measurements of the SO2 flux were well above typical background levels at White Island. This eruptive activity was sufficient to increase the Alert Level from 1 to 2.

Ash was erupted almost continuously during the weekend of 22-23 April, although there was no evidence that any larger blocks were erupted. During another visit by scientists on 26 April the activity level was much reduced from that of the previous two weeks, but minor eruptive activity continued. A weak gas plume, comprised almost totally of steam, was being erupted to 1,500 m before being blown NE. The plume was not visible more than a few kilometers from the island. The seismograph continued to record moderate to strong volcanic tremor, although the level fluctuated with time. It is unclear if there was a direct relationship between the intensity of the eruptive activity and the level of volcanic tremor. COSPEC measurements on 28 April recorded a SO2 flux of 927 metric tons/day, down from previous measurements, but consistent with the activity.

Activity was similar during a monitoring visit on 2 May, with a weak gas and ash plume from MH vent. The ash plume was rising to 500 m, while the steam-and-gas plume rose to 760-900 m before being blown NNE. The plume was visible more than 10-15 km from the island. Ash emission was occurring continuously. The seismograph continued to record fluctuating moderate to strong volcanic tremor.

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