Whakaari/White Island activity and warnings

It has always been known that Whakaari (Te Puia o Whakaari – The Dramatic Volcano”) is at risk of erupting.

In 1914 ten miners were killed when part of the crater collapsed.

Activity over the last few decades (Wikipedia):

  • Major eruptions in 1981–83 altered much of the island’s landscape and destroyed the extensive pōhutukawa forest. The large crater created at that time now contains a lake, whose level varies substantially.
  • In March 2000, three small vents appeared in the main crater and began belching ash which covered the island in fine grey powder.
  • An eruption on 27 July 2000 blanketed the island with mud and scoria and a new crater appeared.
  • Between July and August 2012 Whakaari / White Island showed signs of increased activity with lake and gas levels rising from inside the crater.
  • On 5 August 2012 a minor eruption occurred.
  • Ongoing volcanic activity and tremors on 25 January 2013 suggested another eruption was imminent. A small eruption occurred on 20 August 2013 at 10.23 am, lasting for ten minutes and producing mostly steam

Volcanic Alert Bulletins over the last few months (Geonet):

Whakaari/White Island Volcanic Alert Level raised to Level 2.

26 June 2019

Whakaari/White Island is experiencing moderate volcanic unrest and the Volcanic Alert Level is raised to Level 2.

Whakaari/White Island Volcanic Alert Level lowered to 1

1 July 2019

Whakaari/White Island shows lower level of gas emissions and the Volcanic Alert Level is lowered to 1.

Whakaari/White Island steam-driven activity increases

26 September 2019

Small, muddy, geyser-like explosions are occurring in the active crater at Whakaari/White Island due to a rising crater lake drowning the active vents. This geysering poses no risk to visitors. The Volcanic Alert Level remains at Level 1.

Whakaari/White Island steam-driven activity increases

30 October 2019

Small, muddy, geyser-like explosions are occurring in the active crater at Whakaari/White Island due to a rising crater lake drowning the active vents. This geysering poses no risk to visitors. The Volcanic Alert Level remains at Level 1.

Whakaari/White Island: Background activity increases further

18 November 2019

Volcanic unrest continues at Whakaari/White Island and some monitored parameters show further increases in activity. Hazards on the island are now greater than during the past few weeks, and the Volcanic Alert Level is raised to Level 2.

Whakaari/White Island: Moderate volcanic unrest continues

25 November 2019

Moderate volcanic unrest continues at Whakaari/White Island, but no new changes are observed in the monitored parameters. The Volcanic Alert Level remains at Level 2.

Whakaari/White Island: Moderate volcanic unrest continues

3 December 2019

Moderate volcanic unrest continues at Whakaari/White Island, with substantial gas, steam and mud bursts observed at the vent located at the back of the crater lake. Other monitoring parameters remain elevated and the Volcanic Alert Level stays at Level 2.

Eruption occurred at White Island

9 December 2019

An eruption has just occurred at White Island.

Leave a comment

47 Comments

  1. lurcher1948

     /  10th December 2019

    Have been on White Island,i went on the boat that later burnt. The island was very interesting and i stood on the edge of the crater and its acid lake and marvelled at the power of nature.I wasn’t worried about it being an active volcano as i have an interest in them having climbed to the crater of Ngaruhoe and Ruapehu lake

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  10th December 2019

      I haven’t been, but have been to Ngaruhoe and Ruapehu.

      I lived at National Park for a while as a child and once had a holiday at The Chateau, which impressed me greatly. Not least because the tartan carpet was the same as the tartan trousers I was wearing.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  10th December 2019

        Have you read Pliny’s eyewitness account of Vesuvius ?

        Reply
        • lurcher1948

           /  10th December 2019

          Piliny the elder died during the eruption,i think

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  10th December 2019

            The account is fascinating; he says that everything went black as if they were in a closed room and all the lamps had gone out.

            I want to see Herculaneum even more than I want to see Pompeii. I’d settle for either, of course.

            There’s a ‘tag’ in a childish hand in Pompeii; ‘GAIUS ASINUS EST’. Even in those days. Poor Gaius, all that’s known of him is that he was stupid (or that someone thought he was.

            Reply
            • Kitty Catkin

               /  10th December 2019

              Yes, Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, like the two Pitts in England. It didn’t seem necessary to say that it was the Younger Pliny who wrote the account afterwards.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  10th December 2019

            I see that the elder Pliny actually died in a ship when he was trying to rescue people after the eruption. I thought he’d died IN the eruption.

            Reply
            • lurcher1948

               /  10th December 2019

              Suspected heart attack

            • Duker

               /  10th December 2019

              Vesuvius 79AD…now thats what you call warnings… but they didnt know what those meant, but even when the eruption started it was a high column of ash (18-20 hrs) which could have been survivable if you could get away, then it was the iconoclastic flow which wasnt survivable
              There were 2 Plinys.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  10th December 2019

              My reply about Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger went in the wrong place.

              The atmosphere suffocated people as I remember.

              Here comes the childish PDT who downticks every post I make….

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  10th December 2019

            Here come the childish PDTs, I mean.

            Reply
  2. Duker

     /  10th December 2019

    Thanks for that PG.
    What needs to be added is Whakaari is the most dangerous type of volcano with its crater at sea level and presence of seawater.
    That it will show signs of increased activity AND that any eruption , if at all, will be unpredictable in nature. Clearly the ‘warnings’ werent going to be of the ‘mountain blows its top’ type but enough to produce yesterdays events
    Large tour parties are an unacceptable risk in these circumstances. Complacency seems to have set in with the Tour companies, but their staff seem to have shown extreme heroism in bringing those trapped at the wharf area onto boats

    Reply
    • Ray

       /  10th December 2019

      Certainly hope when all the gongs are being dished out at NewYear the people who went back at considerable risk get their due reward.
      But no, I imagine the normal crew of the “right people/our people”, seat warmers and labour luuvies will head the lists.
      We will see, eh!

      Reply
      • Duker

         /  10th December 2019

        What a nonsense partisan hack you are . A completely disreputable comment when there are people fighting for their lives in hospital.

        Reply
        • Kitty Catkin

           /  10th December 2019

          These people probably won’t be knighted, but I imagine that they will be given some kind of medal or recognition.

          Reply
      • lurcher1948

         /  10th December 2019

        Ray i hear YSB calling BEGONE

        Reply
  3. Duker

     /  10th December 2019

    Just to indicate the various ‘levels’ .
    Yesterday because of the eruption it went to level 4, today its down to level 3.

    Reply
  4. Zedd

     /  10th December 2019

    The BIG Question (in the media).. paraphrased:

    Why were Tourists being taken to an active volcano, that was recently upgraded to level 2 activity ??

    hindsight.. :/

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  10th December 2019

      Yes, Zedd. We could all stop doing anything at all dangerous and still get killed by cancer and heart disease. The only predictability about this is that it was unpredictable but possible. Could chances have been calculated and if so what were they? Should they be published so adventure tourists can make informed decisions?

      Reply
      • Corky

         /  10th December 2019

        All good questions that will be answered by an ‘enquiry.’

        Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  10th December 2019

        Alan, they probably are published so that adventure tourists can make the decision.

        I don’t see how the chances could be calculated. it’s like the once in 50 year floods; there will be one in all probabilty in that time, but there could well be more than one.All that can be done is to monitor White Island, I imagine, and not go there when the danger is obvious.

        Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  10th December 2019

          Chances are calculated all the time by insurers. They rely.on a known history of risk and a measure of exposure. The less frequent the adverse event the longer the history required to estimate it.

          Reply
          • Duker

             /  10th December 2019

            Yeah right . Some insurers won’t take on new customers in Wellington for earthquake risk.
            You don’t seem to have ever heard of exclusions, very common where they don’t have a price for the risk.

            Reply
      • Duker

         /  10th December 2019

        You think the tour operators are going to have passengers after new years day ?

        In some ways the country’s reputation can be wrecked by careless and thoughtless tour operators.
        Normally no insurance company would cover passengers on tours like this , but we have ACC so no personal injury liability like they have Australia US etc

        Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  10th December 2019

          There are other adventure tourism activities in this country that have high risk probabilities though not the potential to kill so many in a single event. Even driving for the inexperienced we see on our roads.

          Reply
          • Duker

             /  10th December 2019

            No it’s not the same.
            Driving is low risk , visiting Taranaki mountain is low risk. Drink driving like going to an active volcano is high risk and would be insurance exclusion

            Reply
  5. lurcher1948

     /  10th December 2019

    Hell i love danger and stress, underground caving and exploying goldmines,car rallying,DOG AGILITY,climbing and tramping…. it’s scarier driving to an agility event, hours of driving facing possible drugged/drunk drivers scarier than boating out to and walking white island

    Reply
    • Corky

       /  10th December 2019

      Lurchy, you are an inspiration to all keyboard warriors who live their lives through a keyboard. Even then, some sandpaper the keys down so they won’t get blisters. What with you rushing between Your NZ, The Standard and YSB blogs, it’s a wonder your fingers don’t get shin splints.

      Reply
      • lurcher1948

         /  10th December 2019

        Corky you are so much an inspiration, a joy to read??? NOT WHAT a barren heart you have just saying, like a fellow poster of yours chuck bird bringing politics into death on the island on Magic recently,VERY
        PS you sound so much more bitter and aggressive? we are here to help with your problem
        PPS to right for YSB banned 2nd day after it starting after pointing a nasty indiscretion from hollysheet and don’t post on The Standard,Im 71 and happy, Corky try being nice online you wont get abused and told off

        Reply
        • lurcher1948

           /  10th December 2019

          Im to the left of Hollysheet,not RIGHT when YSB banned ALL left leaning people who are NOT racist islamophobia knuckledraggers, theres, one who posts here,

          Reply
          • Corky

             /  10th December 2019

            ”Theres, one who posts here.”

            Tell us who, Lurchy, so Pete can get on to this quick smart.

            Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  10th December 2019

      Lurch, you’d have liked my great-aunt who was a racing driver as well as a rally driver. She won all the major Canadian rallies, raced at Brookwood and Brand’s Hatch and was a driver during the war. She even beat Stirling Moss in a race. One doesn’t usually notice the way someone drives, but she was marvellous, driving was an art when she did it.

      Reply
  6. lurcher1948

     /  10th December 2019

    There’s a saying i like…to all who might care…its a good boomer saying
    “Life is too important to be taken seriously”
    (Oscar Wilde)

    Reply
  7. Gezza

     /  10th December 2019

    From articles being published since this tragedy, it’s clear that several of our GNS-monitored volcanos – including Ngauruhoe & Tongariro – can produce sudden steam & ash eruptions when monitored activity levels have been increasing & then subsided. We’ve probably got complacent with White Island, seeing its monitored & it’s always geologically active.

    GeoNet vulcanologist Brad Scott said it was always a surprise when a volcano erupted, but it wasn’t completely unexpected.

    “But as you are well aware, volcanic unrest has been occurring at White Island for several weeks now, so it’s not a total surprise that this has led to a total eruption and we have alluded to this possibility for some time,” he said.

    Less than a week ago, GeoNet said the volcano could have been entering a period when eruptive activity was higher than normal.

    Scott said it was up to tour operators to monitor the situation and decide whether to continue operating. An estimated 10,000 people visit the privately-owned site each year, which is New Zealand’s most active volcano. It last erupted in 2016.

    People are only allowed to land on Whakaari/White Island as part of a tour. Tour companies provide visitors with hard hats and gas masks to protect against the sulphurous steam and fully-enclosed shoes are compulsory. A trip to the island will typically take in a one-hour tour of the inner crater, with its bright-green lake, bubbling pits of mud and roaring steam vents.

    The island is marketed as one of the world’s most accessible, active marine volcanoes, making it a “cornerstone tourism attraction” for Whakatāne. Of the more than 20,000 people who visit the volcano each year, 80 per cent are international visitors, according to the Whakatāne District Council.

    The island, 48km offshore from Bay of Plenty, is New Zealand’s largest volcanic structure, with 70 per cent of the volcano under the sea. It is our most active cone volcano, built up by continuous volcanic activity during the past 150,000 years.

    Men once lived and worked on the island. From the 1880s, they mined the sulphur, for many uses from gunpowder to fertiliser. On September 21, 1914, a sudden lahar in the middle of the night swept away the mine buildings in the crater and the 11 men asleep in their beds.

    That from A Stuff Article this morning. Something I read earlier said that at White Island the magma is usually compartively close to the surface, which is what generates the hydrothermal activity, & it’s likely that a build up of hot gases has burst through the rocks, superheating the water in the crater.

    Now I see Worksafe is saying that visitors signing waivers acknowledging they travel there at their own risk doesn’t allow tour operators to opt out of their responsibility to provide a safe environment for tourists & staff.

    This is an awful thing to happen, so many dead & injured. I wonder what the future of tours there will be. And I also wonder what policy will be the next time Ruapehu & Tongariro alert levels rise. It seems impossible to calculate any safe time after activity has decreased. Could be days, weeks, months afterward (like the 2012 November Tongariro eruption).

    People will still be champing at the bit to hike the Tongariro trail.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  10th December 2019

      This is the first fatal accident (for want of a better word) in 105 years, so that’s a good record.That doesn’t negate the horror of this, of course.

      If people know that they are going to a place at their own risk, I don’t see that tour operators can do much more; they can’t stop volcanoes erupting and they have to rely on the reports from the monitoring.These were visitors, they were not working on the island or for the tour company. How can the tour operators possibly ensure total safety in a place like this ?

      Reply
      • Duker

         /  10th December 2019

        The visitors had to wear hard hats and a respirator/ gas mask!
        That’s an indicator of the risk.
        Tours are relatively recent , from 1975 till 2000 it was more or less in continuous eruption.
        2012-13 was a period of major activity as well

        Reply
  8. lurcher1948

     /  10th December 2019

    They are going full maori tonight on prime news, its fukataaneeee not the piddly town we all know Whakatane

    Reply
    • Corky

       /  10th December 2019

      Funny things happen when you indulge in 4 th dimension thinking, Lurchy. Sometimes it moves the universe in mysterious ways. It was just a few day ago someone took me to task about my criticism of Asians doing a Maori powhiri for cruise ship passengers at the Tauranga wharf.

      Today we had real Maoris at the port of Taurang doing a lament for the dead for cruise ship passengers.

      Reply
    • Corky

       /  10th December 2019

      Wait till Maori protocol clashes with legal requirements, Lurchy.

      Reply
  9. Corky

     /  10th December 2019

    What the…police are to instigate a criminal investigation. Can’t they wait a while for loved ones to be returned? I don’t know whether this is protocol…or a knee-jerk reaction after the Pike River fiasco.

    Reply
    • Duker

       /  10th December 2019

      Yes. Doesn’t seem to be any real evidence of criminal intent. The staff that went to the island seemed to have been very courageous.
      I’m concerned it’s a police tactic to ‘keep control ‘

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  10th December 2019

        Standard procedure, I expect. Several people have died. There will have to be coroners’ reports. They’ll need to establish as much as they can about the relevant facts & circumstances & to start as soon possible for those while all the witnesses & survivors are still here & it’s all fresh in everybodys’ minds.

        I suppose it’s possible they might look to establish whether there’s any culpability. Despite what Worksafe has said I doubt any charges that might be brought would bring about convictions though – certainly not in a Jury Trial. It’s easy to be wise after the event but there’ve now been years of safe visits by thousands I expect.

        This is an inherently risky activity & those people undertaking these tours have had to accept that there is known to be SOME risk of an unpredictable eruption. If Worksafe wanted these tours prohibited they’ve probably had plenty of time to come up with safety requirements the tour companies had to observe, including at what activity level or other geologic / volcanic monitoring circumstances visits are forbidden.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  10th December 2019

          Whakaari/White Island has been at a level two alert level 10 times since 2012, but yesterday was the first time it went from level two to an eruption.

          While tour operators felt this level was within operating guidelines, some experts say the eruption wasn’t wholly unexpected and even a “disaster waiting to happen”.

          Data gained from GeoNet website bulletins shows the alert level has reached two twice this year. It also reached the level in 2016, 2013 and 2012.

          The bulletins show that yesterday’s eruption was the first time an alert level of two led to an eruption. Eruptions in 2016 occurred when the alert level was at one.

          https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/118101001/whakaari–white-island-a-level-two-sense-of-security

          Reply
  10. There’s clear criminal negligence here. I’m just staggered at all the denial. Maybe I’ve just lived in the US for too long, but I can’t understand why people are so casual about the duty of care that the tour operators have. It’s not like these people took their own boats over there. There wasn’t a calculated risk assessment by the deceased. They trusted companies to know if it was safe. The companies fatally failed them.

    New Zealanders can be as tone deaf and “she’ll be right” about this as they like. I guarantee the victims families will not see it that way.

    Reply
    • I think that the companies and anyone going to the island knew that it wasn’t totally safe, and that there was always a risk of an eruption. This should have been clear to any tourist going there.

      The tour operators knew there was a significant risk over time. I don’t think they could have been expected to predict exactly when an eruption would happen.

      Whether they should have continued tours when the alert level rose from one to two is debatable, but Whakaari has erupted when at level 1 before.

      There are risks involved in many aspects of tourism, from flying to driving and busing, and there are higher risks with things like rafting and sky diving and mountain climbing and tramping.

      I think that it will be found that tours to Whakaaari will now be deemed to high a risk. But what about the Tongariro Crossing? Skiing on Ruapehu? Going to any geothermal site in the North island? Auckland is a possible risk.

      And there are earthquake risks, including in major cities like Christchurch and Wellington. Where does one draw the safety line?

      Reply
    • Gerrit

       /  11th December 2019

      You have lived in the USA too long. First of all the people went to White Island on their own free will. Even at the stage of being on the boat just prior to landing, the people had a choice, go ashore or stay on the boat.

      Whilst the tour was an organised party, the participants sign a declaration that they understand the risks involved and most importantly have the responsibility to themselves to either step ashore or stay onboard if they were uncertain of their own safety.

      No different to commercial jet boating operations (where a few have been killed) or white water rafting (a few have been killed as well).

      Nothing in this world is safe, especially from “acts of god”.

      Seems like personal responsibility is flagged away in the litigious USA.

      Reply

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