Natural Hazards

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 37–58 | Cite as

Modelling Geophysical Precursors to the Prehistoric c. AD1305 Kaharoa Rhyolite Eruption of Tarawera Volcano, New Zealand

  • S. Sherburn
  • I. A. NairnEmail author


The ∼1305 Kaharoa rhyolite eruptive episode is the largest volcanic event(≥4 km3 magma) to have occurred in New Zealand during the last 1000 years. Proximal areas were devastated by pyroclastic flows, and tephra fell over much of the northern North Island. No eyewitness observations are recorded, but ejecta analyses show that the rhyolite eruptions were primed and triggered by basalt intrusions. This key finding, combined with observations of similar modern eruptions, has allowed construction of a conceptual scenario of the seismic and other activity that likely preceded the Kaharoa episode.

The precursory scenario begins at -5 years (before the first eruption). Rising basalt magma intrusions generate deep long-period earthquakes in the lower crust, before intersecting and heating a rhyolite magma body at ∼6 km depth beneath Tarawera. By -1 year, increased heat flux from the rhyolite magma body had raised temperatures and pressures in the overlying hydrothermal system; generating shallow long-period earthquakes and increased heat flow at the surface. At -2 months, shallow volcano-tectonic earthquake activity intensified, driven by inflation of the rhyolite magma body, with magmatic gas appearing in fumarole discharges. Rapidly accelerating seismicity, ground deformation and surface heat flow occurred in the last few weeks and days, before the initial vent-opening explosions intensified into major plinian eruptions.

Effectiveness of the present volcano monitoring system at Tarawera can be evaluated against this scenario. The precursory seismic activity, including the critical deep long-period earthquakes, would be recorded but not accurately located. Similarly, the existing ground deformation monitoring systems would detect early magma chamber inflation, but discrimination from the background tectonic tilting signal would be difficult. Continuous telemetering of geodetic data from existing and additional instruments would be required for any useful monitoring of rapid ground deformation in the final precursory phases.

prehistoric eruption rhyolite basalt-triggered precursory seismicity ground deformation monitoring 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences LtdTaupoNew Zealand
  2. 2.RotoruaNew Zealand

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