Volcanic Eruption in New Zealand, 20 Injured, 5 Dead, Many Unaccounted

White Island, New Zealand
White Island, New Zealand. By James Shook, CC BY 2.5, Link

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

A large volcano has erupted in New Zealand, causing 20 injuries and at least 5 deaths. Some people remain unaccounted for. At least one US tourist was in the vicinity. The eruption occurred at White Island, part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, which includes the Taupo Supervolcano.

Up to 20 people are injured with some fighting for life after a volcano erupts off the New Zealand coast – as terrifying video shows the moment it exploded in front of tour boat passengers and ash-covered survivor is seen receiving treatment

  • White Island, 48km from the Bay of Plenty region, began erupting about 2.15pm
  • Thick, white plumes of smoke are filling the sky around the New Zealand island 
  • Up to 20 people are believed to be injured, while others aren’t accounted for
  • Ovation of the Seas passengers are believed to be some of the people on island 


PUBLISHED: 12:38 AEDT, 9 December 2019 | UPDATED: 16:23 AEDT, 9 December 2019

Up to 20 tourists have been injured – some critically – after a huge volcano erupted off the coast of New Zealand while they were climbing inside its crater.

Dramatic footage of the eruption, which happened at Whakaari/White Island, just off New Zealand’s coastline, at about 2.15pm local time on Monday, shows huge plumes of smoke and debris being blasted kilometres into the sky.

A group of tourists were pictured deep inside the crater just moments before the blast while others heading on a boat to the island were rushed inside as thick, grey smoked billowed towards them.

A man with an American accent could be heard saying in the clip: ‘We’ve got to get out of here’.

Read more (includes videos): https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7770695/Volcano-erupts-coast-New-Zealand.html

Let us hope everyone who survived this eruption recovers from their injuries, and the unaccounted people are found safe and alive.

The eruption at White Island seems fairly small, so far only one fatality reported. People who were actually inside the caldera when the volcano erupted appear to have survived.

But the Taupo Volcano Zone is one of the most active regions in the world. Although the peak which erupted only rises 1053ft above sea level, the bulk of the volcano is submerged beneath the waters; White Island rises 5,249 ft above the nearby sea floor.

No doubt volcanologists are busy assessing the implications of this latest disturbance.

The Guardian is providing live updates.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
December 9, 2019 2:12 pm

A tragedy to be sure.

Tim Blair https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/blogs/tim-blair usually maintains a “moron watch” to report which journalist will the first to claim this volcanic event is another effect of climate change.

We all know it’s gonna happen 🙁

Big T
Reply to  Mr.
December 9, 2019 3:31 pm

Momma told me don’t play with fire!!!

Reply to  Big T
December 9, 2019 4:53 pm

“Walk toward the fire. Don’t worry about what they call you.” – Andrew Breitbart

Volcanoes don’t count.

mario lento
Reply to  jorgekafkazar
December 10, 2019 1:06 am

I hiked the volcano in Guadeloupe some 18 years ago… it was spewing all sorts of sulfurous smoke that made it hard to breath. I looked down into the smoky cauldron… could not see the bottom. My eyes were too teary and it was very hard to breath. Probably a bad idea. My wife stayed half way up and let me make the journey.

Reply to  jorgekafkazar
December 10, 2019 12:31 pm

As I understand it, “fire” refers to gunfire, and it’s a military aphorism. I recall the USMC used it in a recruiting ad.

D. Anderson
Reply to  Mr.
December 9, 2019 6:57 pm

If they were told the risk of visiting an active volcano then it’s not a tragedy.
If they were not told the risk then it’s a crime.

Richard of NZ
Reply to  D. Anderson
December 9, 2019 11:48 pm

All visitors on the tour boats (or helicopter passengers ) are told of the hazards. The are provided with had hats and respirators before landing.

p.s. I and my younger sister were booked on the boat for the next day, Tuesday. We understood the risks before booking. The eruption means our desire to see the White has probably been extinguished.

D Anderson
Reply to  Richard of NZ
December 10, 2019 1:24 pm

Woooo, close call. Glad you’re ok.

You’ve got great story to tell now.

Ed Zuiderwijk
December 9, 2019 2:13 pm

If only the vulcano models were as accurate as the climate models, then we would be able to predict eruptions 50 years in advance.

Bruce Cobb
Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
December 9, 2019 2:31 pm

Oh don’t be such a volcano change denier.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Pigg's Peak
December 9, 2019 2:26 pm

Having it blow up while inside must have been really scary.

I climbed up Mt Etna to the point where we could look down into the erupting secondary cone near the top and just below it. The magma was flowing out hot, red and fluid. Very interesting.

We could hear the occasional rush of loose black lava cascading down into the main cone. It was thoroughly exciting. Right on “the edge”.

I’d say getting into the main cone of an active volcano is “past the edge”. Could we have a background on the eruption history of this one? Surely there are monitoring stations and “bulge” measuring equipment on this one?

With the quiet sun about, and for years to come it seems, shall we expect more of these sudden outbursts?

Pop Piasa
Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo but really in Pigg's Peak
December 10, 2019 7:13 am

History (unadjusted) recalls the decade following the Dalton minimum as having been replete with disastrous outbursts by mother Gaia. At that time there were far fewer people to experience the consequences.

Mark Broderick
December 9, 2019 2:49 pm

“New Zealand volcano eruption leaves ‘no signs of life’ on island”


December 9, 2019 2:58 pm

Why did New Zealand Authorities allow a Cruise ship to unload 50 people onto the island when the geologists studying it had already evacuated the island and were observing it only from the air, because of the danger of an eruption. Wait for Climate Change to be blamed.

Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
December 9, 2019 3:15 pm

Yes, I heard a geologist on the news saying he refused to go there and it was irresponsible to send tourists there. IMHO, heads should roll.

The New Zealand government has announced that any unaccounted people are assumed dead. When the authorities return, it will be a recovery operation not a rescue operation.

Mark H
Reply to  commieBob
December 9, 2019 3:42 pm

I’m sure Jacinda Ardern will take decisive action and ban volcanoes immediately.

Craig from Oz
Reply to  Mark H
December 9, 2019 4:25 pm

She will also make a passionate speech in parliament explaining why the name of the volcano must never again be spoken, used, or transmitted in any form of media in order that copy cat volcanos cannot seek inspiration before blaming Australia for a lack of compassion on, well, everything.

Jacinda has to take blame for this. There was a clear lack of basic safety considerations. This was an ACTIVE VOLCANO. Blame goes to the top even if fault doesn’t.

Reply to  Craig from Oz
December 9, 2019 4:47 pm

Will this “workplace violence” never end?

Reply to  Mark H
December 9, 2019 6:37 pm

Actually she does the compassionate thing well. What would you like her to do, throw toilet rolls at them?

Reply to  Simon
December 9, 2019 10:04 pm

She overdoes it ! Its maybe comforting to those who want nothing bad to ever happen again, but the real world is more like the Forrest Gump giving the guy an idea for a bumper sticker scenario. 🙂

Ian Hawthorn
Reply to  Simon
December 10, 2019 2:55 am

Her “unfathomable grief” comment has me scratching my head though. That word – I don’t think it means what you think it means.

Reply to  Mark H
December 10, 2019 10:54 pm

And “White island” That’s racist !

Reply to  Don
December 11, 2019 1:14 am

It’s original and proper name is “Whakaari”

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  Don
December 21, 2019 8:22 am

Simon December 11, 2019 at 1:14 am

It’s original and proper name is “Whakaari”:

Doesn’t bite, only wants to play!


Reply to  commieBob
December 9, 2019 3:46 pm

My inner devil’s advocate asks me this: Why do I think the government should have listened to the geologists and then why shouldn’t it listen to alarmist climate scientists when they warn of disaster? Is there some kind of bright line that separates the two cases?

peter gibbons
Reply to  commieBob
December 9, 2019 4:06 pm

Because erupting volcanoes will kill you now not maybe later.

Reply to  commieBob
December 9, 2019 4:13 pm

I think that bright line would be their respective track records. Geologists are frequently right; alarmist climate scientists have never been right, about anything, for well over a hundred years. It’s difficult to name a branch of science that has so consistently and thoroughly gotten it so wrong.

Reply to  commieBob
December 9, 2019 4:57 pm

There is a stark contrast in the levels of agreement, both among the scientists and between their statements and their actions. All the geologists studying that volcano agreed there was enough danger that they moved off the island and stayed away. Less than two percent of climatologists support the claim of humans controlling the Earth’s temperature, and none are on record as refusing to travel, attending climate conferences only via internet.

Curious George
Reply to  Ted
December 9, 2019 5:18 pm

Oh my god. A 97% consensus again. I would not argue that way.

Reply to  commieBob
December 9, 2019 6:19 pm

The greater the cost of heeding what scientists claim should be done, the greater the questioning of their recommended actions. You must take into consideration the cost of each potential course of action, and eventual outcomes.

Getting rid of our fossil fuels comes at the cost of our standard of living. It requires a HUGE level of confidence of the scientific recommendations. Taking precautionary action when there is uncertainty cannot be justified.

The cost of prohibiting tourists visiting a volcanic island is negligible. Taking precautionary action on the basis of scientists recommendation is entirely justifiable.

In otherwords, if you banned the tourists, and the volcano went dormant, no big deal. If you ban the use of fossil fuels, and they were having no impact on the climate, the cost – in terms of money, standard if living, and human life – would be enormous.

Reply to  commieBob
December 9, 2019 11:59 pm

There was no geologists who left the island. The threat warning had been raised the previous week …from 1 to 2. And tour boats had been going every day since then.

Reply to  commieBob
December 10, 2019 3:58 am

now at 6 dead, one hospitalised patient died today, most burns victims are 30% burned so bad for outcomes ,
one womans been found alive on the island but obviously not in good condition, her young daughter n husband are missing still .
drones couldnt fly today to look due to winds
looking like 23 aussies and around 11 of them still unaccounted for so far;-(

last nasty one it had, it killed a team of sulphur miners around 10 of them the only survivor then was a cat they said.

having water in the pit created the superheated steam effect not just lava n ash going up it went up AND sideways so the fact anyone survived at all is pretty amazing.

Robert of Texas
Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
December 9, 2019 3:24 pm

Geologists = Smart
Tourists = ignorant of dangers
Government Authorities = lets blame something so no one will notice we screwed up

Prayers for the missing and injured. Sometimes nature just catches you off guard.

Chris Morris
Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
December 9, 2019 3:37 pm

Nicholas – The “authorities” don’t own the island – it is in private ownership. There was no cruise ship. That was at Tauranga. The tourists were there by helicopter or small launch from Whakatane. The geologists hadn’t evacuated because there weren’t any there to start with – most are based at Wairakei 150km away. They have a remote monitoring site. They weren’t observing it from the air. The flights that took all the images took off after the eruption. The volcano was only in Alert Level 2 until the eruption went bang. It is often in that state without incident. It is now back to Alert Level 3.

Curious George
Reply to  Chris Morris
December 9, 2019 5:34 pm

Visiting an active volcano is a risky business. A bureaucratic act of increasing the Alert Level to 3 is unlikely to influence the volcano itself. But it should influence the price of insurance.

James Fosser
Reply to  Chris Morris
December 10, 2019 1:34 pm

The authorities (the government ) do own the island. Just stop paying the land rates for the home and land you ”own” and then see who really owns it.

steven mosher
Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
December 9, 2019 7:21 pm

what do experts know

Patrick MJD
Reply to  steven mosher
December 10, 2019 12:01 am

Volcanology experts know a considerable amount more about this planet than climatology experts. Volcanology experts know a considerable amount more about almost everything compared to English language (Or whatever your “expertise” is) majors.

Reply to  steven mosher
December 10, 2019 2:03 am

I would that depends with they actually have the degree or just claim the title hey Steve.

Richard Patton
Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
December 9, 2019 11:03 pm

When you are on a cruise, you can book your own tours. You don’t have to go through the cruise line. I doubt the cruise line offered this particular tour. The liability would be horrendous.

December 9, 2019 3:13 pm

That volcano could be just clearing it’s throat.

There seems to be some connection between a “Quiet Sun” and volcano eruptions. I don’t claim to understand how something as gentle as a sunbeam can cause eruptions, but meteorologists I greatly respect seem to focus deeply on the subject.

The last “Quiet Sun”, called the Dalton Minimum, began quietly enough, but after around twenty years volcanoes began popping off like gangbusters. In fact, judging from ash in both Greenland’s and Antarctica’s icecaps, the two largest eruptions in the last thousand years occurred five years apart, in 1810 and 1815. We know the 1815 eruption was Tamboro in Indonesia, but the 1810 eruption is a “mystery volcano”. Where was it located? Some say up in the Andes in South America, but others say….(cue twilight zone music)….New Zealand.

All the ash in the stratosphere knocked things out of whack. Dr. Tim Ball suggested the jet stream may have become so extremely meridional (loopy) that it shifted a huge amount of sea-ice from the arctic down into the Atlantic, cooling western Europe to a degree that they experienced “The Year With No Summer” (even as Eastern Europe experienced a toasty summer.) It was a crazy time, with icebergs grounding on the shores of Ireland even as waters were ice-free north of Greenland.

I submitted a post about the event here in 2013, and learned a ton through the comments:


Reply to  Caleb Shaw
December 9, 2019 4:32 pm

Taupo has the right composition for an explosive, cosmic ray induced eruption – viscous, silica-rich rhyolite magma.

Mark Broderick
Reply to  Caleb Shaw
December 9, 2019 4:35 pm

It has something to do with more Cosmic rays…..

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Caleb Shaw
December 9, 2019 5:04 pm

Willis has posted quite a few items about volcanoes and climate. Both he and I are unimpressed by the evidence. The “yeare without a summer” seemed to have started BEFORE the eruption, if I remember correctly.

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
December 9, 2019 11:49 pm

And the people who love to add complexity to their theory of solar-driven climate-change, when Occam’s Razor warns that the simplest theory which explains all observations, is most likely to be correct. OK, so we better do the opposite, and lump in seismicity, volcanism, pole-reversals, geotectonics and lunar-cycles, thus immediately rendering the theory the least likely to be correct.

What sport!

Reply to  Caleb Shaw
December 9, 2019 7:25 pm

Is there any correlation between the activity of Earth’s geodynamo and the solar dynamo?

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Caleb Shaw
December 9, 2019 9:04 pm


The sun certainly is at minimum at the moment. Looking today (10 December) at SDO and Stereo-A images, it’s a cueball.
I expect that will change starting in about 5 days. Around 15 December I expect we’ll start seeing some more SH SC25 Active Regions (aka groups of spots with x-ray flaring potential) forming and maybe some NH ARs. They’ll persist for at least 3 Carrington rotations (a CR is 26 days). By then more SC25 spots will be appearing, SC 25 will in post hoc analysis start o/a 1 January 2020.

But when we look historically at when the big volcanic activity and seismic activity happens, near or after perihelion, currently about 3 January. With combination of the solar min and perihelion things will “pop” IMO.
I expect some big volcanic and seismic events in the coming months to May. But that is a cheap meaningless prediction, because no one can predict where or when to make a difference.

David Tallboys
December 9, 2019 3:18 pm

There are a lot more underwater volcanoes than was previously thought – about a million (albeit 75% plus are extinct) and there’s a lot more volcanic/tectonic activity than was believed.

Only a couple of years ago 91 volcanoes were discovered under the Antarctic by a Scottish scientist – even The Guardian admitted there might be some effect on ice melt.

Reply to  David Tallboys
December 9, 2019 4:24 pm

“even The Guardian admitted there might be some effect on ice melt”

The Guardian still maintains that ice melts at temps well below freezing.
But hey, its their newspaper – they can report whatever ‘science’ they like, can’t they?

Reply to  Mr.
December 9, 2019 4:49 pm

It will sublimate though, surely?

Reply to  Annie
December 9, 2019 6:38 pm

They’re not describing it as sublimation, Annie (and don’t call me Shirley :))

Reply to  David Tallboys
December 9, 2019 4:55 pm

And there’s more CO2 in the released gases than some will admit.

December 9, 2019 3:29 pm

Maybe Jacinda Arden can pass a law banning volcanoes.

Tom Abbott
December 9, 2019 3:47 pm

From the article: “People who were actually inside the caldera when the volcano erupted appear to have survived.”

If true, that would be miraculous.

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  Tom Abbott
December 9, 2019 4:07 pm

The DailyMail article is a bit difficult to read, but it appears the volcano spat out some steam and gas, causing a cloud of dust and throwing rocks everywhere. It wasn’t a full blown eruption.

Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
December 9, 2019 5:08 pm

It is a small outburst typical of this volcano which is not “huge”.
But it’s interesting even though there doesn’t seem to be an increase in tectonic activity . . . yet 🙂


Chris Morris
Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
December 9, 2019 7:54 pm

Greg – you are correct. It was not a volcanic eruption. It was a hydrothermal one. Big difference. And there is no monitoring system yet that can pick up the latter. They happen a lot throughout the North Island, especially in the historic context. Tongariro did one a few years back that closed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Chris Morris
December 10, 2019 7:46 am

I believe this information is incorrect.
The island is currently smothered in 2 feet of new ash, which by itself makes the idea that it was merely some sort of hydrothermal event pretty much impossible.
But much other evidence is apparent:
-The eruptive plume quickly topped out at over 12,000 feet high.
No hydrothermal steam eruption could do that.
– A recue boat that was on scene has 18″ of volcanic ash in it upon returning to port.
– Video, although short and jerky, shows what appears to be a mixture of white and dark plume elements. It seems likely that there was a larger than typical amount of superheated water released, but clearly there was also ash and volcanic gasses as well.
– At least one snippet of video showed what strongly resembled pyroclastic flow spreading over the lip of the crater, and then hugging the ground as it spread out, and continued out over the water for some distance. The is a flow pattern seen when superheated rock, ash, steam, and other gasses, spread outward from a volcanic eruption.
As volcanic eruptions go, it was not very large, but it was certainly large enough.
I am very skeptical of early reports that some of the survivors were in the crater when the explosion occurred.
Video clearly shows a large group of people clambering towards the water at the edge of the island in the initial stages of the eruption. The caldera is open on one side, and so people in this area may be considered to be “in the crater”, but I very much doubt they were the people seen way down inside the caldera just before the eruption.
My guess is that those are the eight people still listed as missing.
The volcano is still considered to dangerous for a search, and appears to have an ongoing steam and gas plume issuing from it.
This was, IMO, very definitely a volcanic eruption…which typically have some amount of steam and superheated water vapor and condensate within the plume.

Chris Morris
Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
December 10, 2019 9:52 am

No Nicholas you are still wrong. Look at the geonet site linked to earlier https://www.geonet.org.nz/news/3gw0COzuPkJFCcmKeWcdbc. Brad Scott, the vulcanologist says it was a phreatic explosion. Phreatic is synonymous with hydrothermal. So if you can’t get that right, what else do you know?

Chris Morris
Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
December 10, 2019 10:20 am

Here is a paper on a recent “small” hydrothermal eruption in New Zealand well away from any active volcano
Maybe only 10,000 cubic metres of debris ejected. The one in 1948 was a lot bigger.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
December 11, 2019 2:18 am

I am still wrong?
This was my first comment on this article.
So tell me, what did I get wrong, Chris?
You said it was not a volcanic eruption.
This is plainly wrong, contradicted by the article you linked to.
Every single word I wrote is correct.
Your assertion that phreatic eruptions are not volcanic eruptions , and phreatic is synonymous with hydrothermal.
This was a volcanic eruption of gas, ash, and superheated steam.
Phreatic eruptions can and do produce problematic flow, and they can produce flows that are heated to incandescence.
If you cannot get a simple definition right, or read the article you posted in your jackass post, what can you get right?
Tell us Chris…was the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, the one that produced the loudest sound in recorded history, obliterated the entire island, created a pressure wave that circled the globe numerous times for several days, and killed over 36,000 people…was that a volcanic eruption?
Why on earth would you that when a volcano explodes due to magma superheating groundwater, and volcanic ash and has and steam erupt, you know, from a VOLCANO, that this is not a volcanic eruption?
Oh, and that Krakatoa thing…that is strongly argued by many researchers as wholly a phreatic eruption, although possibly a phreatomagmatic precursor initiated the event.
Magma heating seawater and producing giant explosion, or doing the same with groundwater…that is what is called a phreatic event.
A hydrothermal explosion is something else.
In a hydrothermal explosion by definition the energy is transferred to the surface not by magma but by circulating meteoric water.
What volcanic ash and gasses are ejected, by definition this is a volcanic eruption.
You got one thing right…big difference.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
December 11, 2019 2:21 am

Autocorrect typo:
“Phreatic eruptions can and do produce problematic flow…”
Should be:
“Phreatic eruptions can and do produce pyroclastic flow…”

Chris Morris
Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
December 11, 2019 9:27 am

Nicholas You wrote “The island is currently smothered in 2 feet of new ash, which by itself makes the idea that it was merely some sort of hydrothermal event pretty much impossible.
But much other evidence is apparent: -The eruptive plume quickly topped out at over 12,000 feet high.No hydrothermal steam eruption could do that.”
The volcanologist who actually know what he was talking about said it was a hydrothermal eruption so you were wrong. There was no pyroclastic flow, like what happened at Krakatau. So get your volcanic activity right. The geologists use precise words and he described it as phreatic – defined in rthe dictionary as “to or denoting underground water in the zone of saturation (beneath the water table).
(of a volcanic eruption) caused by the heating and expansion of groundwater.” . It was a steam and gas eruption that blew out surrounding formation. They happen all the time in geothermal areas. There is an active one 500m from where I live.
Go back and read what Brad actually wrote – not what you think he did.

Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
December 10, 2019 3:51 am

Don’t expect reliable facts from the Daily Mail!

Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
December 10, 2019 11:01 pm

Mt. St. Helen’s had a number of these “spats” before “the big one” on May 18, 1980. There were people hiking the mt. even then.

John in NZ
Reply to  Tom Abbott
December 9, 2019 6:07 pm

I am staying at Mt Maunganui and could see the smoke from the eruption yesterday. Too much cloud and haze today.

I was fishing close to White Island about 30 years ago when it started erupting. Lots of steam and sulphur but no rocks. The next day we went ashore and walked up to the caldera while it continued erupting.. Exactly where the tourists were when it blew yesterday. In those days there were no rules about going ashore so we had no safety equipment. We anchored down wind from the island over night. The boat was covered with ash.

Reply to  John in NZ
December 9, 2019 6:45 pm

Yes same experience. I have fished and dived the island on two separate occasions. Stunning place. First time the skipper let me walk on to the island alone. I was 20. 20 years later they gave us gas masks but still no restriction. Things will change now.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
December 10, 2019 12:04 am

No , the people who were in the caldera were most of the missing presumed dead , around 8 people. Most of those who survived were near the wharf for a pickup back to mainkand

Reply to  Duker
December 10, 2019 3:33 am

In a picture in the link above you can see those 8 hiking the trail a hundred feet or so from the edge a couple of minutes before it outgassed.

James P
December 9, 2019 3:55 pm

Elizabeth Warren has a plan for volcanoes.

December 9, 2019 4:05 pm

It’s worse than 5 dead, and there are reports of some victims having 90% of their body burned. Very nasty:


Nobody can reach the island to check on those remaining as it’s too dangerous, but the police had a look by air and said there’s no sign of life on the island.

December 9, 2019 4:30 pm

There is “something” about volcanos – Sure hope that these adventurers are all found OK. But from the heading it seems some have died.
Living near Mt. Saint Helens – back in 1980, we saw tragedy strike as many folks lost their lives.
I stayed away during the long lead to the major eruption. But – I just had to go climb the evil “Saint” and look over the edge – a year or so after the danger had passed.

Patrick MJD
December 9, 2019 5:16 pm

People in comments in Australian media are already attributing this eruption and subsequent earth quakes to climate change. The stupid, it burns.

I flew over White Island in late 1995, while it was not erupting, it was clearly active indicated by plumes of steam, smoke etc. You could see, and smell, where sulphur was being emitted and collecting on surface of rocks. Why anyone would want to venture out on to an active volcano is anyone’s guess because White ISland is PERMANENTLY active. This was after the eruption of Ruapehu, shortly after I arrived in New Zealand also in 1995. There used to be a purple inflatable “Dino” the dinosaur and webcam that you could watch 24/7 on the island.

I toured most of the thermal areas there in 1995, Rotorua, Taupo, Hot water beech etc and where the “Pink and White” terraces were on a boat which near to the remaining rock wall they were on and you could feel the heat radiating and see steam pouring out from the rocks. It took days to get the smell of sulphur out of my nostrils and clothes.

Craig from Oz
Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 9, 2019 10:28 pm

Glad someone else remembers the Dino.

I used to actively check the cam on my lunch breaks because when he first appear the “consensus” would be that the local conditions would soon remove him.

From what I can gather he lasted several years with little damage. So much for consensus.

Also I believe the dino was a solid plastic toy, not inflatable. According to the legends he ‘appear’ fully glued to the concrete near the camera one morning and ‘no one’ knows who put him there.

Well… probably they did know, but Arden probably declared him/her an un-person for dumping plastic and their name has been struck from all records.

December 9, 2019 5:16 pm

A 5.0 quake just struck close by this area.

Maggy Wassilieff
Reply to  goldminor
December 9, 2019 8:30 pm

160km to the S. E. of White Island….and about 20km S of where I’m sitting.
No damage at my place…

Some shops in Gisborne report stock fallen from shelves.

Earthquake probably more to do with movement on the Hikurangi Trench .. just off the E.coast of North Island NZ…. than any activity in the Volcanic Zone.

Reply to  Maggy Wassilieff
December 10, 2019 1:01 am


Steve Oregon
December 9, 2019 5:56 pm

The volcano was a great tourist stop until it wasn’t.
I reckon Yellowstone could do the same?

Don K
Reply to  Steve Oregon
December 9, 2019 8:00 pm

Could. Probably won’t. And likely not without warning as Yellowstone is pretty heavily monitored. (Re)Filling of the magma chamber would probably have symptoms.

The Long Valley Caldera and associated volcanic zone in California is possibly a more likely candidate for meaningful volcanic activity as the geology is a bit unclear and historically minor activity in part of the region has been fairly frequent in geologic terms. It’s being monitored also of course.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Steve Oregon
December 10, 2019 7:55 am

White Island is said to be the most active volcano in the area.
It was known to be hazardous.
Yellowstone is thought to erupt every 640,000 years or so.
There were major events at 2.1 MYA, 1.3 MYA, 0.63 MYA.
So although it is almost surely far closer to the next eruption than the last, it could easily be one or several hundred thousand years before anything of note happens there.
Yellowstone is not in imminent danger of an eruption.
White island and similarly active volcanoes ought to be understood by anyone who is considering a visit to be extremely hazardous.
Just because there are long periods of time when it is not erupting as compared to when it is actively doing so, just makes it a crap shoot.
Most people survive walking around outside in thunderstorms too.
That does not make it less stupid to do so.
If one jellybean in an aquarium full of jelly beans was deadly poison, would you eat one?

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
December 10, 2019 9:31 am

BTW, that last question was rhetorical and not addressed to any one in particular.

Rob JM
December 9, 2019 6:36 pm

Pretty normal behavior for this volcano.
Also normal behavior for NZ cowboy tourism.
Sign form then have some dangerous fun.

Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
Reply to  Rob JM
December 9, 2019 8:25 pm

The implication of the article is that not all of the tourists were NZ cowboys. One voice from the crater was said to have “an American accent.” I dismiss that out of hand, because Americans don’t have accents.

Reply to  Rob JM
December 9, 2019 11:48 pm

It made me recall the Mount Erebus plane crash. Very New Zealand.

Michael Carter
December 9, 2019 8:24 pm

13 confirmed or assumed dead and 27 people with greater than 30% burns (steam and acid). Pretty nasty.

This was a phreatic eruption: super-heated water under pressure causing failure of the vent plug. There are a number of robust monitoring devices in place used throughout the world. I understand that most were in place at White Island. By eruption standards this was very small and may have not have registered to any alarming extent within the monitoring.

The result of all this will be a more focused attention on how to better monitor this style of eruption. Each eruption study is invaluable to volcanologists throughout the world. I would be surprised if a precursor does not exist in the seismographs. It is the patterns of these that are of the most interest.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Michael Carter
December 9, 2019 8:46 pm

“Michael Carter December 9, 2019 at 8:24 pm

There are a number of robust monitoring devices in place used throughout the world. I understand that most were in place at White Island.”

I don’t know about White Island certainly Ruapehu where there was a “monitoring station” running under Windows NT4. Back in 2000 I used to work for the company (For DoC) that was responsible for keeping it running and every now and then someone had to visit the hut it was installed in and reboot the PC to get it running again. I think it was eventually swept away by a lahar.

December 9, 2019 8:41 pm

Perhaps extraterrestrial intelligent beings, tracking the solar minimum, shot a high energy beam at the volcano to induce a little global warming for us earthlings….

Seriously, we visited a Japanese volcano several years ago. There were domed concrete shelters around the crater and a “blast wall” between the crater and the gift shop.😳

Alexander K
December 9, 2019 10:22 pm

I am a Kiwi who has grown up with earthquakes and geothermal activity, have never become accustomed to earthquakes as one never knows when the shaking will stop or if it will get to be ‘the big one’. I have never been inclined to view the interior of any volcano, no matter how small (white Island is very small as volcanoes go) and I regard the current tourism practice of using an active volcano as an attraction as more than a little foolhardy. It is not that I am risk-averse – I have done a lot of stuff that appears risky to others, but have never put others in danger in pursuit of income.

Richard of NZ
Reply to  Alexander K
December 10, 2019 12:04 am

New Zealand, particularly in the central volcanic zone is basically one big volcanic crater. Both lakes Taupo and Rotorua are just flooded craters (calderas). It is basically impossible to be in the central North Island without being in an active or recently active crater.

Martin Cropp
Reply to  Richard of NZ
December 11, 2019 8:28 am

Both harbours on Banks peninsula on the east coast are extinct volcanoes. My house is built on one of the outflows into the ocean overlooking Christchurch. Hard very old rock.

During the 2012 earthquakes the whole hill moved up and down violently to the extent that your eyes can’t focus and your feet are moving between the floor and six inches above.
Earth is a wonderful ball of mystery.

December 9, 2019 10:42 pm

Sorry to state the obvious, but I’m a geologist and I wouldn’t go there.

Problem is, the government wouldn’t stop anyone going because these eruptions don’t send out RSVPs, and the tour operators wouldn’t shut down without predictable indicators, which in this case aren’t predictable. Catch 22.

They use to mine sulphur on the island until they were all killed in another unpredictable eruption. History lessons not learned.

Reply to  Thingadonta
December 9, 2019 10:44 pm

They needed a climate scientist with grant money to shut it down, where the end of the world occurs as a cow farts.

Chris Morris
Reply to  Thingadonta
December 10, 2019 4:29 pm

Thingadonta It was not an eruption that killed those sulphur miners. It was a landslide.

Reply to  Chris Morris
December 11, 2019 5:12 pm

They aren’t sure, an eruption might have caused the slide.

December 10, 2019 12:03 am

As a New Zealander I am saddened by the loss of life in this tragedy .
I have always lived in the North Island and where I was brought up we could see the central volcanoes as my parents farmed high on the slopes of Pirongia Mountain an extinct volcano and although we were 100 miles away we could see plumes of ash belching from the the three active volcanoes at different times .
Lake Taupo and Lake Rotorua are craters of volcanoes and Taupo was one of the worlds largest supernova explosions and it is still active .
New Zealand sits astride two plates and we have regular earthquakes in the South Island and up the east coast of the North Island and most of our volcanic activity is centered around the central plateau and Rotorua .
Auckland our largest city sits on a dormant volcanic field and their are many dormant volcanoes in Northland and the Waikato .
The comments from some of you who have little experience with volcanic activity shows .We live with volcanoes and earth quakes sometimes things go wrong without warning.
We are not about to shut up shop and leave our country as natural disasters do happen very unexpectedly.
People die on the roads every day and we all still drive and no one has banned using roads .
The government has announced an inquiry into the tragedy but this is really no difference than an earth quake as it happened so quickly without any real warning .
Some people want to blame some one for these deaths but in reality this was an act of god .

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Gwan
December 11, 2019 2:51 am

I think the questions are regarding if unsuspecting tourists were properly apprised of the danger ahead of time.
This little island is known to be the most active volcano in that region.
The only question I would have is, where people told about details such as this?
Regardless of these details, presumably everyone knows what a volcano is.
And this one seems to have been a popular tourist attraction because it is an active volcano.
The fact is, despite it being the 21st century, people still die all the time in volcanic eruptions.
No one needed to spend money to go back inside a volcano, and I doubt anyone was there except because they wanted to see something unusual and very interesting.

Michael Carter
December 10, 2019 12:05 am

Within environmental geology we refer to hazard and risk. Hazard is the assessment of the potential magnitude of a natural catastrophic event, plus the odds that such an event may occur within a certain time-frame. Risk is the potential personal or structural damage. Low hazards can have high risk and visa versa.

In the case of White Island I would say that it was a low-moderate hazard with high risk. Eruptions only occurred on a multi-year basis and were comparatively small. Monitoring equipment was in place that would have detected a pending eruption of almost any other style. But, given that tours took place almost on a daily basis throughout summer and that people walked close to the vent the risk was very high.

In NZ, GNS (the equivalent to the USGS) is the government funded body responsible for assessing hazard and risk of geological hazards. Given our tectonic setting they are well equipped and funded. The scientists are well paid.

Soon the blame game will begin. At the moment the tour operators are being singled out. I feel that this is unfair. They rely on GNS to report any significant change in the activity and concern . I am sorry say it but it clear to me where responsibility lies.

Media is already referring to lawsuits against tour operators. They are the easy target. I feel sorry for the volcanologists behind this. They won’t be getting much sleep tonight. When does one decide that risk is too high?

I remember the last lecture on geomechanics (landslides e.t.c) by a retiring professor. His last words were “Good luck, you are going to need it”. Geology is a grey science.


Patrick MJD
December 10, 2019 2:09 am

It is reported to be a private island, which is true however, there are tour operators who are authorised to access the island, one of them is White Island Tours;

“Ngāti Awa Group Holdings is the commercial arm of Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa – the entity that manages the collective affairs of the members of Bay of Plenty iwi Ngāti Awa.”

And has been since 2017. Not sure if they were the operator involved however, their website is down.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 10, 2019 8:11 am

News sources are reporting that a criminal investigation has been opened.
Not sure what sort of liability such tour operators might have in such an event, but certainly anyone taking people into such a dangerous place, and volcanoes are dangerous by definition, should have been getting releases signed by everyone, only AFTER appropriate warnings of exactly how dangerous it might be.
Anyone ought to know it is possible for an active volcano to erupt without warning, and that anyone nearby when that happens will certainly die.
How big the eruption, and in what direction the eruptive material spreads, determines exactly what distance constitutes “nearby”.
At least one American couple on their honeymoon where caught in the eruption. He is said to be burned over 80% of his body, and she over 20% of hers.
I recall reading a while back that if the sum of a persons age and the percent of the body that is burned is over 105, there is little chance of survival, but I suppose this depends on the severity of the burns and which parts were not burned, and that number may not be what is currently the case.
I have had nearly every sort of severe injury a person can have, and burns are among the worst.
Bad way to go, and faster is almost certainly better.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
December 10, 2019 5:09 pm

It’s summer downunder so light clothing would have been worn, especially further north in NZ. I understand they were issued hard hats, which would be a bit of a joke IMO. Super-heated, explosive, steam and debris would be quite nasty to have survived. While living and touring NZ the various thermal areas I don’t recall signing a waiver of any kind or being warned about dangers. To me it was fairly obvious the dangers. Actually, no, now I recall. In some of the thermal areas there were warning signs to stay on the marked path and do not stray beyond the fenced areas.

I know burns (And cuts) as I usually end up trying to weld a finger/arm/hand to a hot baking tray when making dinner.

NZ Willy
December 10, 2019 2:37 am

There was a 5.9 earthquake close in just a couple weeks before: https://www.geonet.org.nz/earthquake/2019p882948 . I daresay I wouldn’t have been hauling any tourists out there after that. That White Island tourism place has been operating out of Whakatane for years. History now.

Patrick MJD
December 10, 2019 4:15 am

I arrived in Wellington, NZ in Sep 1995 to an earthquake that rocked buildings in the city. I was on the 9th floor of my work building along The Terrace. Two weeks later, or there abouts, Mt. Ruapehu erupted quite spectacularly.


Most of my recently acquainted Kiwi workmates took the next day off to drive up north to watch it firsthand. I decided to stay well south in Wellington.

John Galt
December 10, 2019 7:23 am

Darwin Award Winners unite!

James Fosser
December 10, 2019 1:46 pm

The authorities (the government ) do own the island. Just stop paying the land rates for the home and land you ”own” and then see who really owns it.

December 10, 2019 3:17 pm

The island looks like a turtle.

December 10, 2019 4:09 pm

Damn fool Kiwis even think that Americans have an accent.

December 10, 2019 11:02 pm

It’s not an Island ! First and foremost it is a volcano and should be treated as one . There should have been blast shelters available mid crater (basically where they were all caught . And no “waiting at the jetty ” business , on and off the island immediately !

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Don
December 11, 2019 2:33 am

Is this an attempt at humor?
They have not even recovered the dead bodies yet.
It is generally considered to be tactless and in bad taste to joke about events in which people being killed and horribly injured, at least until the dead are recovered.

%d bloggers like this:
Verified by MonsterInsights