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Whakaari/White Island

White Island

The Māori name Te Puia o Whakaari means to ‘make visible’.

For a one page fact sheet / poster on Whakaari/White Island Volcano click VolcanoFactSheets_White Island2012.pdf (165.29 kB)

Whakaari/White Island has the honour of being New Zealand’s most continuously active volcano during the last 40 years. It is an uninhabited island about 2 km in diameter and 48 km from the coast of the Bay of Plenty. It marks the northern end of the Taupo Volcanic Zone.

Although 70% of the cone is under the sea, the highest point reaches 321m altitude. Most of the island is occupied by the Main Crater, with the crater floor being less than 30m above sea level.

Whakaari/White Island has been active for at least 150,000 years, It is a stratovolcano, (composite cone volcano) made of layers of andesite lava flows and pyroclastic deposits (tephra). Since human settlement in New Zealand there has been continual low level activity and small eruptions. From 1975 until 2001 there were frequent small eruptions making this the island’s most active period in hundreds of years. Ash and gas plumes rose as high as 10km, lava bombs and blocks were thrown into the sea and occasionally the glow of red hot rock was visible at night from the Bay of Plenty coast.

Sulphur mining occurred at intervals from the 1880’s until the 1930’s and the remains of a factory can be seen on the island. Eleven miners were killed by a debris avalanche in 1914, when part of the crater rim collapsed.

Gases dissolved in the magma escape and rise towards the surface where they mix with, and heat the groundwater beneath the crater floor. This produces fumaroles, and the white steam/gas cloud which is usually present above White Island. This acidic cloud can sting the eyes and skin, affect breathing and damage equipment and clothes.

GNS Science is monitoring Whakaari/White Island with three web cameras, one seismograph and a microphone to detect volcanic explosions. Whakaari/White Island also has its own resident dinosaur, "Dino". See if you can spot him in the web cameras.

 Three monthly visits are made to test water, gas and soil, as well as to make surveys of surface deformation. Check out our video to see our volcano experts in action on White Island.