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

Whakaari/White Island

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 25, no. 7 (July 2000)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) New crater formed on 27 July during the largest eruption in about 20 years

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, 25:7. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200007-241040

Whakaari/White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 294 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

This report covers June and July 2000. On 18 April 2000, the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (IGNS) increased the alert level from 1 to 2 (level 5 being the most severe) following minor eruptive activity that began on 7 March 2000 and included elevated seismicity and higher than normal SO2 gas flux (BGVN 25:03).

The IGNS reported that for the week ending 16 June 2000, the active MH vent continued to emit an ash plume. This plume sometimes extended as far as 60 km downwind and deposited ash as far as 15 km away. Up to several centimeters of ash were deposited on White Island. Until 16 June, seismic activity was significantly less than in May.

Field observations on 12 July indicated little change in activity since April. Furthermore, no direct relationship between seismic activity during this time and the eruptive activity could be determined. The ash continued to be vented to an altitude of 800-1,000 m. By 19 July, strong NE winds had periodically blown the ash plume towards the mainland, resulting in minor ash deposition there. Ashfall at Turango airport led to landing and departure restrictions. Air traffic was also disrupted around the Bay of Plenty.

On 22 July IGNS staff noticed an increase in activity compared to previous observations. A yellowish-brown gas and an ash plume extending to a height of 1500 m were blown to the E and SE. This continued to disrupt air traffic and deposit ash on the mainland. In fact, the IGNS staff were unable to land due to ash accumulation at the landing site. However, they noted that yellowish-brown ash now covered the island with thicknesses ranging from several mm to several cm. They saw no evidence of ballistic bombs or evidence that the eruptive style had changed from the previous months. However, they did note that the height of the MH vent had decreased from its previous location above the acid lake to a height level with the lake.

On Thursday 27 July between 1700 and 2200, a period of strong seismic activity was recorded. Visual and satellite observations were not possible due to poor weather conditions. A tour operator arriving at the island the morning of 28 July, confirmed that there had been an eruption. IGNS staff arrived 29 July and discovered that a large explosive eruption formed a new crater 120 x 150 m wide in the site formerly occupied by a warm acidic lake in the 1978-90 Crater Complex. The eruption deposited as much as 30 cm of ash and pyroclastic material, including juvenile pumice blocks, over the eastern part of the island. This was the largest eruption at White Island in about 20 years; deposits from this eruption were found in areas frequently visited by tourists. The IGNS advised all visitors that similar eruptions pose serious risks to anyone on the island.

Observations on 31 July found the MH vent, which had enlarged to ~50 m, spewing a dark ash cloud while a reddish-brown ash cloud rose from the new 27 July vent. The plumes combined and rose as high as 1-1.2 km above the vents. After this event, activity returned to the level typical since April: minor eruptions that produced plumes of gas, steam, and volcanic ash.

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: Brent Alloway, Brad Scott, 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/).