Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — 29 January-4 February 2020
Smithsonian / US Geological Survey Weekly Volcanic Activity Report, 29 January-4 February 2020
Managing Editor: Sally Kuhn Sennert
Please cite this report as:
Global Volcanism Program, 2020. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand). In: Sennert, S K (ed.), Weekly Volcanic Activity Report, 29 January-4 February 2020. Smithsonian Institution and US Geological Survey.
37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 294 m
All times are local (unless otherwise noted)
On 4 February GeoNet reported that White island remained at an elevated state of unrest. Temperatures at the vent area remained very hot at more than 550-570 degrees Celsius. Gas emissions measured during an overflight on 30 January had decreased compared to the previous week but remained at high levels. No changes to the vent area, the receding lake, or the area of lava extrusion were visually apparent. Continuing movement of the back-crater wall W of the 1914 landslide deposits was identified in satellite images, though not noted during the overflight. According to the New Zealand Police another person died as a result from the eruption, bringing the total number of deaths to 21. The Volcanic Alert Level remained at 2 and the Aviation Color Code remained at Yellow.
Geologic Background. 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.