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Report on White Island (New Zealand) — June 1987

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 12, no. 6 (June 1987)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland..

White Island (New Zealand) Explosions weaken; inflation accelerates

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1987. Report on White Island (New Zealand). In: McClelland, L. (ed.), Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 12:6. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198706-241040.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 321 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


Tephra emission and seismicity declined after the vigorous explosive activity of 13-22 May. Eruption (E-type) sequences were recorded on most seismograms between 22 May and 7 June. The largest event, at 1508 on 4 June, was accompanied by an eruption column clearly visible from the Bay of Plenty coast,>50 km away. Weak medium-frequency volcanic tremor was recorded 22-24 and 26 May, and lower-amplitude tremor bands, each lasting 4-10 hours, have dominated the background of most records since then. The number of low-frequency B-type earthquakes ranged from 3 to 15/day, but amplitudes were considerably lower than earlier in the year.

Geologists visited the crater on 11 June for the first time since the mid-May explosions. Only gas and minor ash emission was occurring from the active (Hitchhiker) vent on the floor of Congress Crater. Ballistic blocks probably ejected by the May explosions had fallen >700 m from the vent, and formed impact craters 0.5 m in diameter within 50 m of the coast (at Crater Bay). Since the 12 May visit, 900 mm of tephra had fallen at a site 60 m ESE of the rim of Congress Crater, but deposits thinned rapidly farther from the vent. All of the examined lapilli- to block-sized ejecta was lithic material, most altered, but some unaltered dense black andesite lava was found. The volume of the May-June tephra was in the order of 105 m3, about half of the total volume of 1987 ejecta.

Rapid local inflation, centered ~200 m ESE of the vent (in the Donald Mound area) occurred between the 12 May and 11 June levelling surveys. Maximum uplift was 29 mm, compared to 7 mm the previous month. Magnetic data showed a sharp (-100 nT) anomaly N of Donald Mound and a broader +100 nT anomaly to the SE. The NZGS interpreted the combined deformation/magnetic data to suggest that local heating was occurring at depths of 200-300 m.

During a brief visit on 30 June, a steam plume containing a little ash rose from the vent, but less vigorously than on 11 June. No new ejecta were evident near the crater rim, but heavy rains within the previous 2-3 days had disrupted the ground surface.

Geologic Background. Uninhabited 2 x 2.4 km White Island, one of New Zealand's most active volcanoes, is the 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 summit crater appears to be breached to the SE, because the shoreline corresponds to the level of several notches in the SE crater wall. Volckner Rocks, four sea stacks that are remnants of a lava dome, lie 5 km NNE. Intermittent moderate phreatomagmatic and strombolian eruptions have occurred throughout the short historical period beginning in 1826, but its activity also forms a prominent part of Maori legends. Formation of many new vents during the 19th and 20th centuries has produced 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.

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