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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — April 1988

Whakaari/White Island

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 13, no. 4 (April 1988)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Strong explosion; inflation and heating

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1988. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 13:4. Smithsonian Institution.

Whakaari/White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 294 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The largest explosive eruption since September 1987 occurred on 14 March at about 1615, when a dark eruption column rose to at least 3 km altitude. Eleven days later, geologists found altered lithic blocks up to meter-size scattered over the main crater floor, and ash covered the S slopes of the island. Some fresh, highly vesiculated andesitic bombs had also been ejected, probably comprising only a fraction of a percent of the large tephra, but were larger (to 25 cm) and more abundant than those found on 30 October 1987 and 10 February 1988. Samples of lapilli and ash were also lithic-dominated, but included a minor fresh magmatic component of dense, slightly vesiculated black glass. Intermittent explosive activity continued into early April.

When geologists visited the volcano on 14 April, ash emission was continuing but little new tephra had accumulated on the main crater floor since the previous visit 10 days earlier. A levelling survey showed a zone of very rapid shallow-sourced inflation on the main crater floor NE of the active (Hitchhiker) vent. Magnetic data indicated a broader zone of strong localized heating that included the rapidly inflating area, with cooling to the E. Within the area of inflation and heating, a fumarole that was incandescent in daylight had a measured temperature of 830°C. After repair of seismic instruments on 14 April, seismicity was characterized by sub-continuous medium-frequency volcanic tremor.

Geological Summary. 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, NZGS Rotorua.