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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — October 1982

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 7, no. 10 (October 1982)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Localized inflation continues

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1982. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 7:10. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198210-241040.

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)


When NZGS personnel inspected the volcano on 8 October, two months after the last visit on 31 July, they found no new tephra deposits. There has been no significant tephra accumulation on the main crater floor since January 1982, the longest interval without deposition since the eruption began in December 1976. Much of the tephra cover in the W half of the main crater, where the fumaroles are, has been subjected to intense hydrothermal alteration.

Substantial steam columns were being emitted from vents on the floor and walls of 1978 Crater, and from Donald Mound and Noisy Nellie fumaroles. The strongest fumarolic activity was on the N side of 1978 Crater, near the new collapse pit. The small green pond in the SE part of the crater was still present; in a muddy black pond N of it, there was vigorous geysering. Fumarole temperatures measured at 4 places on the main crater floor ranged from 470°C in vents with low gas pressure to 695°C in high-pressure vents near Donald Mound.

Inflation of the Donald Mound area has continued at a steady rate. The E side had risen 9 mm since 31 July, and 58 mm since 21 May 1981 (figure 8), equivalent to 500 µrad of tilt. A deflationary trend was continuing about 200 m N of the Mound. The NZGS interpreted the inflation as a possible precursor of eruptive activity in this area.

Between 5 July and 1 October the number of low-frequency (B-type) seismic events did not exceed 10/day except in early July, when it increased to 31/day on the 9th and 10th, then declined. All the low-frequency events were small. High-frequency (volcano-tectonic) events usually numbered fewer than 5/day in this period, except as shown in table 4. These events were also generally small.

Table 4. Days between 5 July and 1 October 1982 when more than five high-frequency events were recorded at White Island.

Date Number of High-Frequency Events
18 Jul 1982 67
07 Aug 1982 9
15 Aug 1982 15
18 Aug 1982 8
28 Aug 1982 10
06 Sep 1982 11
14 Sep 1982 18

Moderately high frequency volcanic tremor began about 2200 on 28 July and gradually increased in amplitude until 0800 on 30 July, when a distinct decline in amplitude was apparent; tremor ceased by 1600 that day. Wide-band earthquake sequences indicative of eruption were recorded on 9, 15, and 26 September, but no eruptions were reported. Medium-frequency volcanic earthquakes were recorded on 16, 17, and 26 July, 14 August, and 4 and 18 September. The NZGS interpreted these as possible intrusive events.

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: I. Nairn and B. Scott, NZGS, Rotorua.