Logo link to homepage

Report on Ulawun (Papua New Guinea) — March 1983


Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 8, no. 3 (March 1983)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Ulawun (Papua New Guinea) Increased seismicity and vapor emission

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1983. Report on Ulawun (Papua New Guinea) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 8:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198303-252120


Papua New Guinea

5.05°S, 151.33°E; summit elev. 2334 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

"A notable seismic crisis occurred 21-23 March. From mid-January until 21 March, seismicity had been fluctuating between 400 and 1200 B-type volcanic shocks of moderate amplitude per day, in an apparently cyclic manner with a period of 16 days. On 21 March, shocks occurred at the rate of about 800/day until 1700, when their amplitude decreased sharply. At 1930 their frequency started to increase, and from 2000 they became subcontinuous (1800/day) and moderate in amplitude. This high level of seismicity continued for about 38 hours before gradually decreasing again.

"The volcano was obscured by heavy cloud for most of this period. The first visual observations were made at 0730 on 22 March when 4-6 almost perfect smoke rings, reportedly pale-grey in colour, were ejected rapidly to about 300 m above the summit crater. Consistently strong white vapour emissions from the summit crater commenced on 25 March, contrasting with the usually weak to moderate white emission. A report on 26 March suggests a brief interval of dark grey emission, but seismic records show no changes that could indicate eruptive activity. The decline in seismicity on 23 March was followed by almost 2 weeks of exceptionally low levels interrupted only by a brief increase, 30-31 March.

"It is interesting to note that the high level of seismicity closely followed a heavy rainfall of 65 mm. It also occurred only three days after a major tectonic earthquake (ML 7.7) in the Solomon Sea, felt at MM V in the vicinity of Ulawun. It is possible that the earthquake opened microfissures in the volcanic edifice allowing ground water to penetrate and interact phreatically with shallow magma. The cyclic variations in seismicity since mid-January and increasing instability in March are believed to indicate that an eruption may occur in the near future."

Geological Summary. The symmetrical basaltic-to-andesitic Ulawun stratovolcano is the highest volcano of the Bismarck arc, and one of Papua New Guinea's most frequently active. The volcano, also known as the Father, rises above the N coast of the island of New Britain across a low saddle NE of Bamus volcano, the South Son. The upper 1,000 m is unvegetated. A prominent E-W escarpment on the south may be the result of large-scale slumping. Satellitic cones occupy the NW and E flanks. A steep-walled valley cuts the NW side, and a flank lava-flow complex lies to the south of this valley. Historical eruptions date back to the beginning of the 18th century. Twentieth-century eruptions were mildly explosive until 1967, but after 1970 several larger eruptions produced lava flows and basaltic pyroclastic flows, greatly modifying the summit crater.

Information Contacts: C. McKee, RVO.