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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — February 2003

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 28, no. 2 (February 2003)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Increased SO2 emissions since December, mud ejections in February

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2003. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (Venzke, E., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 28:2. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200302-241040.

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)


Minor volcanic tremor continued, and the plume of steam and gases from the vent remained unchanged through the end of November 2002, according to the Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences (IGNS). The output of SO2 measured on 10 December was 112 ± 36 metric tons per day (t/d); in October the value was 63 t/d. Volcanic tremor continued and was accompanied by minor booming and explosions in the second week of December. After a brief period of increased activity at the start of the next week, volcanic tremor dropped to the weaker levels of tremor observed previously. Weak steam and gas emissions continued through 19 December, along with weak volcanic tremor.

An IGNS report on 7 February 2002 noted continuing minor volcanic tremor and a weak plume of steam and gases from the active vent. Activity increased slightly during 9-16 February. On 12 February mud was being thrown some tens of meters in the air, and ground vibrations could be felt. This corresponded to a period of slightly stronger volcanic tremor. Seismograph readings returned to normal by the 13th. Minor hydrothermal activity continued as of 21 February, and the output of SO2 had increased to 269 t/d. Seismic tremor steadily declined to low background levels in the last week of the month, though a weak plume of steam and gases was still being emitted.

Seismic tremor levels at White Island remained low on 7 March, but mud was being ejected to low levels around the active vent and a steam plume remained. There were intermittent periods of weak tremor the next week, and SO2 output was reported to be 267 t/d. Seismic tremor was at a very low level during the week ending on 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: Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences (IGNS), Private Bag 2000, Wairakei, New Zealand (URL: http://www.gns.cri.nz/).