What is happening at Whakaari/White Island


07 September 2022

View of Whakaari White Island during monitoring flight on 31 August

Today we raised the Volcanic Alert Level at Whakaari/White Island to Level 2 due to increased uncertainty caused by loss of real-time monitoring capability. We take a deeper look into what this means.

GeoNet’s Whakaari/White Island volcano monitoring network operates in a harsh environment that needs regular servicing and maintenance to function well. As we haven’t returned to Whakaari since before the 2019 eruption, we haven’t been able to service this equipment for over 2 years.

Although the on-island equipment has performed well in these extreme conditions, without maintenance or repair, for far longer than we were expecting, it has slowly failed. Our sole remaining seismo-acoustic station (that detects earthquakes and explosive airwaves) stopped working on 5 August. This has affected our ability to assess near real-time volcanic activity at Whakaari.

Why change the Volcanic Alert Level?

Although our recent observations (31 Aug) are consistent with generally low levels of volcanic unrest, due to the uncertainty about the level of activity on island, because of the lack of real time data, and the fact that activity can change rapidly, we have raised the Volcanic Alert Level (VAL) to Level 2 and the Aviation Colour code to Yellow.

Acknowledging the recently lost access to real-time data from Whakaari/White Island, Nico Fournier, GNS Science Volcano Science Advisor, comments: "The loss of this real-time data means we are effectively unable to distinguish in near real-time between Volcanic Alert Level 1 (minor volcanic unrest) and Volcanic Alert Level 2 (moderate to heightened unrest)."

We are not increasing the VAL due to a noticed increase in activity but, instead, due to the uncertainty and decreased timeliness of our interpretation caused by the loss of real-time data.

Nico Fournier Volcano Science Advisor GNS Science

We feel this prudent approach more accurately reflects the level of uncertainty about what might be happening at Whakaari in near real-time, in between our gas/observation flights.

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