Published: Tue Aug 28 2018 3:30 PM
Since 24 August a new episode of volcanic tremor and earthquakes has been occurring beneath Mt Ruapehu. Volcanic tremor is common during a heating phase of the crater lake (Te Wai ā-moe).
Following the 1995/1996 eruptions of Mt Ruapehu, the Crater Lake became re-established in 2003 and then stabilised at an overflow level in 2006. One of the common features of the new lake and the pre-1995 lake is that the temperature ranges from about 15 to 40 °C. Often some form of volcanic tremor and small earthquakes occur during the heating phase, especially near the start and the lake changes colour from pale blue to grey. Gases rising through the vents on the floor of the lake disturb the sediments and these get mixed into the lake water. The lake is currently heating and the colour has changed to a grey tone.
GNS Science volcanologists have detected an ongoing sequence of seismicity beneath Mt Ruapehu that are categorised as volcanic earthquakes and volcanic tremor. The volcanic earthquakes are small and their locations suggest that they originate from shallow depth beneath the crater lake area. The distinction between volcanic earthquakes and volcanic tremor is gradational and a sequence of discrete volcanic earthquakes can evolve into a more continuous seismic signal which would then be called volcanic tremor. Tremor amplitude (strength) can vary within a few hours or even by the minute.
The lake temperature reached a relative low of 22 °C on 11 August and started to rise a few days later. The heating has continued and the lake’s temperature has risen to around 30 °C and the lake is overflowing. This is expected activity for the Crater Lake. Since 2003, the lake has undergone 15 heating-cooling cycles and no eruptions have occurred when the lake temperature is high. The two small eruptions since 2003 were from a cooler lake.
It is not unusual to observe volcanic tremor and or volcanic earthquakes during phases of increased heat input into the lake. Although the number of volcanic earthquakes is slightly higher at present this is still within the known behaviour for prior episodes in April 2016, September 2017 and May 2018. These did not result in any eruptive activity. Therefore, we consider the current level of activity is within the normal range of known behaviour. Based on this information, Ruapehu remains at Volcanic Alert Level 1 (minor volcanic unrest) and the Aviation Colour Code is at Green.