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Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) — April 1984


Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 9, no. 4 (April 1984)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) Caldera earthquakes up 60%, two seismic crises; expansion and uplift double

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1984. Report on Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 9:4. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198404-252140


Papua New Guinea

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

"A further intensification of seismic activity took place in April. The total number of caldera earthquakes was 13,749, 60% more than in March. Seismicity was concentrated on the E side of the caldera, in Greet Harbour and at the entrance to Blanche Bay.

"Major seismic crises occurred on 21 and 22 April, when 1,011 and 1,717 events were recorded. The crisis on the 21st was centred at the mouth of Blanche Bay, and the strongest earthquake was a magnitude (ML) 3.6 event. Only minor ground deformation was associated with this crisis.

"On the 22nd at 1100 an ML 4.8 earthquake heralded the most energetic crisis to date, which was centred at the head of Greet Harbour. Structural damage in this and the Sulphur Creek area included cracking, and in one case collapse, of masonry walls, cracks in concrete floors, a burst water main, and burst household water tanks. Tilts around Greet Harbour ranged from 30 to 50 µrad, generally showing a pattern of radial inflation centred in the harbour. Measurements of horizontal deformation indicated expansion of the Greet Harbour area by 20-30 microstrain.

"The overall pattern of ground deformation in April indicated that the strongest tilting, of up to 80 µrad, was in the Greet Harbour area. Rates of horizontal deformation indicated expansion was about double that in any previous month (40-50 microstrain).

"Levelling surveys from Rabaul Township to Matupit Island and around Greet Harbour showed that between mid-March and mid-April the S end of Matupit Island rose 76 mm. Further uplifts of about 50 mm on Matupit Island and at the head of Greet Harbour accompanied the 22 April seismic crisis, making the total uplift in April about double that in any previous month."

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: C. McKee and P. Lowenstein, RVO.