Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 74, Issue 5, pp 1161–1185 | Cite as

Andesitic Plinian eruptions at Mt. Ruapehu: quantifying the uppermost limits of eruptive parameters

  • Natalia Pardo
  • Shane Cronin
  • Alan Palmer
  • Jonathan Procter
  • Ian Smith
Research Article


New tephro-stratigraphic studies of the Tongariro Volcanic Centre (TgVC) on the North Island (New Zealand) allowed reconstruction of some of the largest, andesitic, explosive eruptions of Mt. Ruapehu. Large eruptions were common in the Late Pleistocene, before a transition to strombolian-vulcanian and phreatomagmatic eruptive styles that have predominated over the past 10,000 years. Considering this is the most active volcano in North Island of New Zealand and the uppermost hazard limits are unknown, we identified and mapped the pyroclastic deposits corresponding to the five largest eruptions since ~27 ka. The selected eruptive units are also characterised by distinctive lithofacies associations correlated to different behaviours of the eruptive column. In addition, we clarify the source of the ~10–9.7 ka Pahoka Tephra, identified by previous authors as the product of one of the largest eruptions of the TgVC. The most common explosive eruptions taking place between ~13.6 and ~10 ka cal years BP involved strongly oscillating, partially collapsing eruptive columns up to 37 km high, at mass discharge rates up to 6 × 108 kg/s and magnitudes of 4.9, ejecting minimum estimated volumes of 0.6 km3. Our results indicate that this volcano (as well as the neighbouring andesitic Mt. Tongariro) can generate Plinian eruptions similar in magnitude to the Chaitén 2008 and Askja 1875 events. Such eruptions would mainly produce pyroclastic fallout covering a minimum area of 1,700 km2 ESE of the volcano, where important touristic, agricultural and military activities are based. As for the 1995/1996 eruption, our field data indicate that complex wind patterns were critical in controlling the dispersion of the eruptive clouds, developing sheared, commonly bilobate plumes.


Explosive volcanism Eruptive parameters Isopach Isopleths Physical volcanology Pyroclast 



This study was supported by the New Zealand Foundation for Research Science and Technology Grant MAUX0401, “Living with Volcanic Risk” and the subsequent New Zealand Natural Hazards Research Platform, as well as the Tongariro Natural History Society Memorial Award to NP. We thank H. Keys, J. Johnson (Department of Conservation) and the Range control staff of the NZ National Army camp at Waiouru for allowing access to the Tongariro National park and Army land. We also thank Dr. H. Wright (USGS, California), M. Brenna, G. Lube, A. Moebis, K. Németh, V. Neall, E. Phillips, B. Stewart and T. Wang (VRS-Massey University) for their support in the field and discussions; M. Irwin was also extremely helpful with GIS-applications and Mr. Doug Hopcroft with SEM. Roberto Sulpizio, an anonymous reviewer, Setsuya Nakada and James White are gratefully thanked for their valuable comments, discussion and suggestions which significantly improved the quality of this manuscript.

Supplementary material

445_2012_588_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (97 kb)
Online resource 1 Bulk density (δbulk) and bulk vesicularity (φbulk) obtained for individual pumice clasts (−3 to −4ϕ in size) within each eruptive unit. Bulk volumes were measured with a micrometrics GeoPyc 1360 envelope density analyser. Bulk vesicularity was obtained following Houghton and Wilson (1989) (PDF 97 kb)
445_2012_588_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (91 kb)
Online Resource 2 Bulk Rock major element analyses of cleaned juvenile pumice lapilli sampled within each eruptive unit. The samples were crushed with an agate mortar, and only in the case of very dense clasts were they milled with a tungsten carbide ring grinder. Powders were analysed by X-ray fluorescence (Siemens SRS3000 spectrometer) on glass fusion discs prepared with SPECTRACHEM 12–22 flux in the University of Auckland (PDF 90 kb)
445_2012_588_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (81 kb)
Online resource 3 Field data for Isopach maps with thickness data given in cm. (PDF 81.1 kb)
445_2012_588_MOESM4_ESM.pdf (79 kb)
Online resource 4 Field data for Lithic isopleths. Clast average diameters are given in mm (PDF 78.8 kb)
445_2012_588_MOESM5_ESM.pdf (87 kb)
Online resource 5 Field data for Pumice isopleths. Clast average diameters are given in mm (PDF 87.1 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Natalia Pardo
    • 1
  • Shane Cronin
    • 1
  • Alan Palmer
    • 1
  • Jonathan Procter
    • 1
  • Ian Smith
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Natural ResourcesMassey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand
  2. 2.School of EnvironmentThe University of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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