Volcanoes are iconic features in Aotearoa New Zealand’s landscapes. Several of these volcanoes are active or have the potential to become active in the future. They pose very real threats to lives, livelihoods, infrastructure and the landscape.

Studying volcanoes provides valuable insight into the timing, size and extent of past eruptions, which provides very useful information for predicting and modelling future eruptions.

Monitoring our volcanoes

Understanding the risks and hazards associated with our volcanoes is of paramount importance, and GNS Science maintains an interdisciplinary team that forms the volcano monitoring group to monitor our volcanoes. This group keeps a close eye on the current state of our volcanoes. Changes in the status allows responding agencies to assess the hazardscape.

There are eight active volcanic areas in New Zealand with several active and potentially active volcanoes located in these areas. Although the probability of an eruption affecting a large area is relatively low in any given year, New Zealand needs to be prepared for a range of volcanic eruptions.

Ruapehu's Crater Lake - a Window into the Volcano

  • The Volcano Monitoring Group

    Monitoring the active volcanoes in New Zealand is undertaken by the Volcano Monitoring Group using the skills and experience of GNS Science researchers, the GeoNet geophysical networks and the NGMC response capability. The monitoring group aims to maintain an up-to-date understanding of the current status of activity or volcanic unrest at New Zealand’s volcanoes. The group also aims to make this information available to stakeholders and researchers to inform research into volcanoes and to inform disaster management and evacuation plans.

    To achieve these aims, the group conducts a variety of monitoring activities, including remote monitoring and on-site monitoring, for all of our active volcanoes. We maintain a 24/7 response capability, communicate the current status of a volcano by setting the Volcanic Alert Level (VAL) for each volcano and inform the responding agencies, stakeholders, infrastructure operators and the public of this status in Volcano Activity Bulletins (VABs).

     

  • Studying the past 

    Studying both extinct and active volcanoes gives us insight into our volcanic past, present and future. To look into the wonders of our volcanic environment, our researchers:

    • Use radioactive isotopes to date the eruptions
    • Link rocks to past eruptions to see how far material travelled
    • Conduct geochemical analyses of material expelled to understand the state of the magma system driving the volcano when it erupted
    • Examine the material from a particular site for clues to the duration, magnitude and length of each phase of an eruption
  • Studying the present

    We also monitor the present conditions of New Zealand’s active volcanoes. Monitoring efforts for these volcanoes include:

    • Visual observation
    • Chemical analysis
    • Seismic and acoustic monitoring
    • Ground deformation

    Data from monitoring of our volcanoes is fed into GeoNet. The Volcano Monitoring team gauges the present state of our active volcanoes and communicates this through the New Zealand Volcanic Alert Level system and through direct communication with stakeholders, responding agencies, infrastructure providers and the public. 

  • Mātauranga Maori

    Māori oral history records may provide insight into eruptions of the recent past and changes noted in the pre-eruption landscape. We work with Māori practitioners to provide a more holistic understanding of the behaviour of our maunga. Mātauranga Māori also informs the development of useful, culturally-relevant disaster management and recovery plans that ensure mana whenua are supported through recovery and in developing resilience.