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Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) — February 2007


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 32, no. 2 (February 2007)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) Mild eruptive activity between December 2006 and March 2007

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2007. Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 32:2. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200702-252140


Papua New Guinea

4.2459°S, 152.1937°E; summit elev. 688 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

As previously reported, the Rabaul Volcano Observatory noted a large, sustained Vulcanian eruption at Rabaul on 7 October 2006. Since that initial event at the Tavurvur cone, activity has varied in intensity (BGVN 31:10). During 13 December 2006 through the end of March 2007, generally mild eruptive activity continued, often with loud roaring noises and in some cases with ash plumes rising 1.5 to 3.7 km above Tavurvur's summit.

During December 2006, there was only low level seismicity, including high-frequency earthquakes and mild eruptive activity. During 24-29 December, ash clouds rose 1-3.7 km above the summit before being blown variably to the NE and SW. On 25, 27, and 28 December, fine ash fell downwind, including in Rabaul Town, and occasional roaring noises were heard. Seismic activity continued at low levels. No high-frequency earthquakes were recorded. Low seismicity continued during most of January.

During 4-10 January 2007 plumes occasionally bearing ash rose 0.9-3.3 km above the cone and drifted E and NE. Vapor emissions accompanied by pale gray ash clouds occurred on 13, 16, and 24 January. The emissions rose 0.4- 2.5 km above Tavurvur's summit and blew E, NE, and N. During 24-25 January there were nine low-frequency earthquakes recorded. Ground deformation measurements showed no significant movement apart from a slight deflation of about 1 cm during the last few days of January. From 29 January onwards, seismicity increased to a moderate level. Three high-frequency earthquakes were recorded, one on 27 January, and two on 30 January, all originating NE of the caldera. Low-frequency earthquakes began 24 January. A total of 16 events were recorded during 24-28 January, and a further 50-60 small events 29-31 January.

Two small explosions occurred at 0448 and 0548 on 27 January and a large explosion occurred at 0130 on 31 January. The latter explosion showered the cone's flanks. The accompanying ash clouds rose a couple of hundred meters straight above the summit. Fine ashfall occurred at Rabaul Town and surrounding areas.

Mild eruptive activity continued during early February with associated seismicity at very low levels. The small low-frequency earthquakes had declined in number by about half. Ground deformation data indicated a noticeable deflation of the caldera. Mild eruptive activity continued intermittently during the latter half of February, associated with low seismicity. Ash fell on surrounding villages on 20 February. On 16, 19, and 21 February, low-frequency earthquakes and white vapor emissions containing very low ash content rose as high as 3 km above Tavurvur's summit. The emissions were not accompanied by high-frequency signals or significant ground deformation.

Moderate explosions occurred on 21, 26, and 27 February. A larger explosion, at 1150 on 28 February, showered the cone's flanks with lava fragments. Thick ash clouds rose 2 km above the summit and blew NE.

Between 3 and 4 March, multiple explosions occurred; the biggest on 3, 4, and 8 March. The explosion's shockwaves rattled houses in Rabaul Town and surrounding villages. Thick ash and lava fragments showered the flanks of the cone. Other emissions consisted of white gray ash clouds that drifted E and SE. On 4 and 6 March ash plumes rose as high as 2.7 km above the summit. A weak glow was visible only during forceful emissions. During 6 to 21 March, ash plumes intermittently rose as high as 3.7 km. From 16 to 25 March, multiple explosions again produced shockwaves felt in Rabaul Town, and ash fell in surrounding villages. Incandescent material was seen rolling down the cone's flanks. During the period 27-30 March only low level vapor emissions rising to 400 m above the cone were visible. Seismic activity continued to remain at a very low level, with just three or four short (< 30 second) low-frequency events. There were no high-frequency events.

Geological Summary. The low-lying Rabaul caldera on the tip of the Gazelle Peninsula at the NE end of New Britain forms a broad sheltered harbor utilized by what was the island's largest city prior to a major eruption in 1994. The outer flanks of the asymmetrical shield volcano are formed by thick pyroclastic-flow deposits. The 8 x 14 km caldera is widely breached on the east, where its floor is flooded by Blanche Bay and was formed about 1,400 years ago. An earlier caldera-forming eruption about 7,100 years ago is thought to have originated from Tavui caldera, offshore to the north. Three small stratovolcanoes lie outside the N and NE caldera rims. Post-caldera eruptions built basaltic-to-dacitic pyroclastic cones on the caldera floor near the NE and W caldera walls. Several of these, including Vulcan cone, which was formed during a large eruption in 1878, have produced major explosive activity during historical time. A powerful explosive eruption in 1994 occurred simultaneously from Vulcan and Tavurvur volcanoes and forced the temporary abandonment of Rabaul city.

Information Contacts: Steve Saunders and Herman Patia, Rabaul Volcanological Observatory (RVO), Department of Mining, Private Mail Bag, Port Moresby Post Office, National Capitol District, Papua, New Guinea; Andrew Tupper, Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC), Bureau of Meteorology, Darwin, Australia.