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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — June 1989

Whakaari/White Island

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 14, no. 6 (June 1989)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Explosions continue; craters enlarge

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1989. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 14:6. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198906-241040

Whakaari/White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 294 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Eruptions of ash and blocks continued from R.F. Crater and Donald Duck vent in May and June. On 10 May, when R. Fleming visited White Island, R.F. Crater was erupting dark gray coarse ash, most of which fell into the crater. Donald Duck vent was emitting minor amounts of gas. A small (3 m diameter) new vent had opened 20-30 m NNE of Donald Duck, discharging gas and ash. On 1 June, Fleming observed similar conditions.

During geological fieldwork on 23 June, the main crater floor was covered with fine gray ash that thickened toward Donald Duck vent. Block-ejecting explosions (the largest yet from Donald Duck) had apparently also occurred since the 1 June visit. Fresh new impact craters and lithic blocks (up to 1 m in diameter) were abundant to ~200 m SW of Donald Duck, which had enlarged to 100 m in diameter and >200 m in depth. No fresh magma has been detected in the Donald Duck tephra. The new vent NNE of Donald Duck vent was no longer active. The pits that had formed in late January (SEAN 14:01) and the 1980 pits (W of Donald Duck) were quiet, but had recently collapsed (probably due to recent heavy rainfalls) and were deeper, with vertical walls.

Large scoria bombs (1 m) and blocks (>5 m in diameter near the 1978 Crater rim) had been erupted from R.F. Crater, which was emitting a dilute, green-brown ash column and a few small blocks. Coarse ash fell back into the crater. A total of 450 mm of ash had accumulated on the 1978 Crater rim since 26 April. Rare, vesiculated, brown glass was the only indication of fresh magma in the tephra. Hitchhiker vent (in Congress Crater) was slightly enlarged, but had not collapsed, suggesting reinforcement by local intrusions. Recent heavy rainfalls had triggered several debris flows of saturated ash from the 1978 Crater walls. The largest had flowed across the 1978 Crater floor and over the rims of R.F. and Congress Craters.

Fumarole temperatures in the Donald Mound area had dropped since 26 April, and tephra (ejected from Donald Duck) covered the vents. Deflation of the area had accelerated, with the W portion subsiding 21 mm and the NW portion >40 mm since 16 March. The area near the rim of 1978 Crater had subsided 300 mm since the small eruptions in early 1984 (09:02).

Intermittent seismic data after 26 April showed that seismicity had not significantly changed, other than an increase in E-type events (14 in May and 4 in June before transmission ceased). A- and B-type events were recorded most days, with maximum daily totals of 12 and 15 events respectively. Microearthquakes were recorded 26-31 April and 20-21 May, with 10 events/minute on 27 April.

Vegetation studies indicate that the post-l976 eruption is stronger than any in the last several hundred years at White Island (White Island 1976-82 Eruption [appendix by Clarkson and others]: New Zealand Geological Survey Bulletin, in press).

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 and B. Scott, NZGS Rotorua; P. Otway, NZGS Wairakei.