ECLIPSE – Eruption or CatastropheLearning to Implement Preparedness for future Supervolcano Eruptions

The programme is devoted to understanding the world’s most frequently active supervolcano system, the central Taupō Volcanic Zone


By determining the geological cues that signal unrest versus those that signal eruption, the programme contributes to the global understanding of supervolcanic systems and the local development of hazard models and disaster preparedness plans.

The MBIE-funded Endeavour Research Programme “Eruption or Catastrophe: Learning to Implement Preparedness for future Supervolcano Eruptions” (ECLIPSE) brings together researchers throughout New Zealand and overseas with GNS. ECLIPSE researchers are using geophysical techniques to see below the surface and picture where magma is present now beneath the volcanoes and follow its movements

The ECLIPSE programme aims to

  • develop a caldera health system to determine the current state of the caldera volcanoes in the central Taupō Volcanic Zone
  • identify what causes switches between dormancy, unrest and eruption
  • model eruption dynamics and estimate impacts of future events
  • implement mitigation strategies for future eruptions based on these models
  • produce decision-support tools in collaboration with our end users

To achieve these aims, we are

  • working with iwi, stakeholders and end users using co-creation methods
  • constructing a historical database of past unrest and eruption events
  • conducting research into magma ascent and storage as well as volcano-tectonic interactions to find eruption tipping point indicators
  • using modelling to predict the extent and impact of volcanic hazards
  • developing probability analyses and decision support frameworks to assist with preparedness and use exercises to test response plans
  • communicating knowledge about the Taupō Volcanic Zone with stakeholders, the general public and schools to improve understanding, inclusivity and eruption readiness

The project

  • Taupō Volcanic Zone: a supervolcano system

    Of all the types of volcanism seen on Earth, the largest events are associated with huge eruptions of magma (molten rock) that is rich in silica. The high silica content makes the magma very sticky and so typically when it erupts the gases dissolved in it tear the magma apart in an explosive eruption. The largest of these "supereruptions", can release over 500 cubic kilometres of magma, and only occur about once per 200,000 years. Four of these massive eruptions have occurred in the 2 million year history of the central Taupo Volcanic Zone, with their host volcanoes labelled as ‘supervolcanoes’.

    The central Taupō Volcanic Zone supervolcanic system currently has two active volcanic centres: Taupō (a supervolcano, which was last active 1700 years ago) and Okataina (which last erupted in 1886). Every few decades, the volcanic system experiences unrest, and every few hundred years, it erupts.

    Most of these eruptions are small and short lived, but very rarely, these eruptions can be enormous. Lake Taupō (with a surface area of 616 km²) fills the hole left by a supereruption (the Oruanui event 25,500 years ago) that caused widespread devastation and spread ash as far as Antarctica. Supervolcanic eruptions like these can produce enough ash to cause the equivalent of a “nuclear winter”, drastically changing climate patterns around the globe.

    It is expected that the central Taupō Volcanic Zone will experience unrest or eruption at some stage in the future. ECLIPSE is working with scientists around the world to study this system to better understand what circumstances cause unrest and what might cause unrest to lead to eruption.

Research into past and present conditions

To understand the ways in which the central Taupō Volcanic Zone supervolcano system operates ECLIPSE researchers are:

  • studying the products of past eruptions to understand the processes and timescales of magma formation beneath the Earth’s surface
  • devising and using new methods to measure how fast the magma rises to start eruptions and assess how much warning might be given before an eruption
  • studying the eruption products to assess the hazards posed by past eruptions
  • modelling the eruption processes to inform the hazards associated with any future activity
  • studying the relationships between the volcanic unrest or eruption and the extensive faulting that is present throughout the central North Island to identify other factors that might control the behaviour of the volcanoes
To assess the present state of the supervolcano system...

ECLIPSE researchers are using geophysical techniques to see below the surface and picture where magma is present now beneath the volcanoes and follow its movements. Earthquakes are a common indicator of unrest or impending eruption as the magma pushes against the surrounding rocks. However, the Taupō Volcanic Zone is located in a tectonic rift, where the Earth’s crust is actively pulling apart. Seismic activity (i.e. earthquakes) along this rift may or may not cause or be caused by volcanic unrest. Current research is aimed at identifying earthquake types and patterns that may signal unrest and separate these from business-as-usual tectonic earthquakes.

Map showing setting of Taupō Volcanic Zone (TVZ) in New Zealand (inset) with sample locations. Barker et. al (2020)

Hazard modelling

Our researchers are constructing models of magma hazards during unrest and eruption and models of eruption plumes based on the volume and extent of historic eruptions. Models are used to analyse the probability of a volcanic hazard occurring from a future event and the impact of those hazards depending on the location and size of an eruption. These models help us understand where hazards may occur and how much of an impact they may have.  

Application and outreach

Our project uses a co-creation method whereby communities are involved in the design and implementation of scientific research. Using this method, we have deployed a new network of seismometers around Lake Taupō and will design a volcanic dashboard for the central Taupō Volcanic Zone. Our strong education and outreach component ensures knowledge is transferred to schools and communities, for example through Seismometers in Schools installations.

The research we conduct is being used to improve the resilience of New Zealand society. We partner with Civil Defence and Emergency Management, local iwi, GeoNet and the New Zealand Volcano Science Advisory Panel to design response plans that are then tested. The information generated by our research will be fed into Riskscape and MERIT to inform mitigation strategies and build resilience.

  • Publications

    Barker SJ, Rowe MC, Wilson CJN, Gamble JA, Rooyakkers SM, Wysoczanski RJ, Illsley-Kemp F, Kenworthy CC (2020) What lies beneath? Reconstructing the primitive magmas fueling voluminous silicic volcanism using olivine-hosted melt inclusions. Geology 48, 5p (link(external link))

    Barker SJ, Wilson CJN, Illsley-Kemp F, Leonard GS, Mestel ERH, Mauriohooho K, Charlier BLA (2020) Tau: an overview of New Zealand's youngest supervolcano, New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics (link(external link))

    Barker SJ, Van Eaton AR, Mastin LG, Wilson CJN, Thompson MA, Wilson TM, Davis C, Renwick JA (2019) Modeling ash dispersal from future eruptions of Taupo supervolcano. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 20, 3375–3401 (link(external link))

    Bebbington, MS (2020) Temporal-volume probabilistic hazard model for a supervolcano: Taupo, New Zealand. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 536 (link(external link))

    Benson TW, Illsley-Kemp R, Elms HC, Hamling IJ, Savage MK, Wilson CJN, Mestel ERH, Barker SJ (2021) Earthquake analysis suggests dyke intrusion in 2019 near Tarawera volcano, New Zealand. Frontiers in Earth Science 8:606992 (link(external link))

    Breard ECP, Jones J, Fullard L, Lube G, Davies C, Dufek J (2019) The permeability of volcanic mixtures – implications for pyroclastic currents. Journal of Geophysical Research 124 (2), 1343-1360 (link(external link))

    Breard ECP, Dufek J, Lube G (2018) Enhanced mobility in concentrated pyroclastic density currents: An examination of a self fluidization mechanism. Geophysical Research Letters 45(2), 654-664 (link(external link))

    Brosch E, Lube G, Cerminara M, Esposti-Ongaro T, Breard ECP, Dufek J, Sovilla B, Fullard L (2021) Destructiveness of pyroclastic surges controlled by turbulent fluctuations. Nature Communications. 12, 7306, (link(external link))

    Brosch E, Lube G (2020) Spatiotemporal sediment transport and deposition in experimental dilute pyroclastic density currents. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 401:1-16. (link(external link))

    Esposti-Ongaro T, Cerminara M, Charbonnier S, Lube G, Valentine GA (2020) A framework for validation and benchmarking of pyroclastic current models. Bulletin of Volcanology 82:51 (link(external link) - lead article for topical collection)

    Gleeson M (2020) Mantle control on silicic volcanism. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment (link(external link))

    Hamling IJ, Kilgour G, Hreinsdóttir S, Bertrand E, Bannister S (2022) Estimating the distribution of melt beneath the Okataina Caldera, New Zealand: an integrated approach using geodesy, seismology and magnetotellurics. (In press) Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research (link(external link))

    Hamling IJ, Kilgour G (2020) Goldilocks conditions required for earthquakes to trigger basaltic eruptions: Evidence from the 2015 Ambrym eruption. Science Advances, 6:14 (link(external link))

    Hamling IJ, Cevuard S, Garaebiti E (2019) Large-scale drainage of a complex magmatic system: Observations from the 2018 eruption of Ambrym volcano, Vanuatu. Geophysical Research Letters, 46(9), 4609-4617 (link(external link))

    Hogg AG, Wilson CJN, Lowe DJ, Turney CSM, White P, Lorrey AM, Manning SW, Palmer JG, Bury S, Brown J, Southon J, Petchey F (2019) Wiggle-match radiocarbon dating of the Taupo eruption. Nature Communications 10, 4669 (link(external link))

    Holdaway RN, Duffy B, Kennedy B (2018) Evidence for magmatic carbon bias in 14 C dating of the Taupo and other major eruptions. Nature Communications, 9(1), 4110 (link(external link))

    Illsley-Kemp F, Barker SJ, Wilson CJN, Chamberlain CJ, Hreinsdottir S, Ellis S, Hamling IJ, Savage MK, Mestel ERH, Wadsworth, F (2021), Volcanic unrest at Taupō volcano in 2019: Causes, mechanisms and implications. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 22,6 (link(external link))

    Illsley-Kemp F, Barker SJ, Smith B, Wilson CJN (2020), Implications of a supervolcano’s seismicity, Eos, 101 (link(external link))

    Illsley-Kemp F, Savage MK, Wilson CJN, Bannister S (2019) Mapping stress and structure from subducting slab to magmatic rift: Crustal seismic anisotropy of the North Island, New Zealand. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 20:11, 5038-5056 (link(external link))

    Jolley A, Dohaney J, Kennedy B (2022) Teaching about volcanoes: Practices, perceptions, and implications for professional development, Volcanica, 5(1), pp. 11–32. doi: .30909/vol.05.01.1132 (link(external link))

    Kosik S, Bebbington M, Nemeth K (2020) Spatio-temporal hazard estimation in the central silicic part of Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand, based on small to medium volume eruptions. Bulletin of Volcanology 82:50 (link(external link))

    Lube G, Breard ECP, Esposti-Ongaro T, Dufek J, Brand B (2020) Multiphase flow behaviour and hazard prediction of pyroclastic density currents. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment 1: 348–365 DOI : 10.1038/s43017-020-0064-8 (link(external link) - Invited review)

    Lube G, Breard ECP, Jones J, Fullard L, Dufek J, Cronin SJ, Wang T (2019) Generation of air lubrication within pyroclastic density currents. Nature Geoscience 12 (5): 381-386 (link(external link))

    Myers ML, Wallace PJ, Wilson CJN, Watkins JM, Liu Y (2018) Ascent rates of rhyolitic magma at the onset of three caldera-forming eruptions. American Mineralogist 103, 952-965 (link(external link))

    Myers ML, Wallace PJ, Wilson CJN (2019) Inferring magma ascent timescales and reconstructing conduit processes in explosive rhyolitic eruptions using diffusive losses of hydrogen from melt inclusions. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 369, 95-112, (link(external link))

    Ohashi M, Ichihara M, Maeno F, Kennedy B, Gravley D (2020) Quantitative measurement of bubble textures in pumice clasts using a digital stereo microscope with low-angled ring illumination. Earth Planets Space 72, 185 (link(external link))

    Peers JB, Lindell MK, Gregg CE, Reeves AK, Joyner AT, Johnston DM (2021) Multi-hazard perceptions at Long Valley Caldera, California, USA. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 52 (link(external link))

    Pure L, Leonar(external link)d GS, Townsend DB, Wilson CJN, Calvert AT, Cole RP, Conway CE, Gamble JA, Smit(external link)h T (2020) A high resolution 40Ar/39Ar lava chronology and edifice construction history for Tongariro volcano, New Zealand. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research (link(external link))

    Saha S, Tapuke S, Kennedy B, Tapuke K, Hersey S, Wright F, Tolbert S, Macfarlane A, Leonard G, Tupe R, Ngaropo P, Milroy K, Smith B (In press). Use of “Our Supervolcano” virtual field trip to support bicultural classrooms in Aotearoa New Zealand. Science Activities

    Saha S, Tapuke S, Kennedy B, Tapuke K, Hersey S, Wright F, Tolbert S, Macfarlane A, Leonard G, Tupe R, Ngaropo P, Milroy K, Smith B (2021) Toward ethical curriculum development: perspectives from the interface of Mātauranga Māori & Western Science. SET: Research Information for Teachers, (3), doi:10.18296/set.0211 (link(external link))

    Villamor P, Litchfield NJ, Gomez D, Martin-González F, Alloway B, Berryman K, Clark K, Ries W, Howell A, Ansell IA (2022) Fault ruptures triggered by large rhyolitic eruptions at the boundary between tectonic and magmatic rift segments: The Manawahe Fault, Taupō Rift, New Zealand. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research (link(external link))

    Walters H (2021) Vertical and lateral variations of grainsize and pyroclast componentry in the Taupo 232 CE Y2 fall deposit : implications for spatiotemporal deposition and conduit conditions in large Plinian eruptions. MSc Thesis, Massey University (link(external link))

    Wilson CJN, Barker SJ, Charlier BLA, Myers ML, Hansen KF (in press) A comment on: Magma residence and eruption at the Taupō Volcanic Center (Taupō Volcanic Zone, New Zealand): insights from rhyolite-MELTS geobarometry, diffusion chronometry, and crystal textures by AS Pamukçu et al., Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology 175:48 (2020), accepted 20 December 2020

Graham Leonard Volcanic Geologist

Graham is a Principal Scientist within the Earth Structure and Processes Department. His particular research interests are in Taupo Volcanic Zone volcanic mapping; New Zealand volcanic geology, stratigraphy and geochronology; developing effective response to warning systems, especially for volcanic, tsunami & landslide/debris-flow processes; and quantifying/characterising & mitigating the impacts of natural hazard events.

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Research Project Details

GNS, Victoria University of Wellington, GeoNet, Massey University, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Arawa Lakes Trust, Caldera Advisory Group (Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Waikato Regional Council, Rotorua Lakes District Council, Taupo District Council, Earthquake Commission, National Emergency Management Agency), University of Auckland, University of Canterbury.

International: European Network of Observatories and Research Infrastructures for Volcanology (EUROVOLC), University of Leeds, University of Oregon, and United States Geological Survey through California Volcano Observatory (CalVO), Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) and Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO).



Funding Platform

Endeavour Fund




Dr Graham Leonard (GNS Science)
Prof Colin Wilson (Victoria University of Wellington)
Prof Gert Lube (Massey University).


Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)