Mount Tongariro eruption takes New Zealanders by surprise: volcanic lesson will be repeated many more times in the future

August 7, 2012NEW ZEALANDAsh from New Zealand’s Mount Tongariro covers houses and farmland in this still image taken from video, August 7. A New Zealand volcano dormant for more than a century has spewed boulders and spread an ash cloud over the center of the country, disrupting air traffic but causing no other damage or injuries. A volcano quiet for more than a century erupted in a New Zealand national park, spreading thick ash for several miles and causing some residents to evacuate their homes. Some domestic flights were canceled Tuesday. Mount Tongariro spewed ash and rocks for about 30 minutes late Monday night after a few weeks of increased seismic activity. It didn’t cause any injuries or damage in the sparsely populated central North Island region. Tongariro National Park has three active volcanos, is a popular tourist destination and was the backdrop for many scenes in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies. Some residents left their homes as a precaution, and authorities temporarily closed roads. National carrier Air New Zealand canceled or delayed domestic flights to towns near the mountain, though by Tuesday afternoon, it said it was resuming service to locations where the ash cloud had cleared. No international flights were affected. Police said a witness to the eruption described flashes and explosions followed by a cloud of ash coming from a hole in the north face of the mountain. The Department of Conservation said three hikers were staying in a hut on the opposite slope of Mount Tongariro when it erupted but they walked out of the area safely. Steve Sherburn, a volcanologist at the government agency GNS Science, said the eruption spread a layer of ash one or two inches thick for several miles. He said he’d heard reports of ash traveling on wind currents to coastal towns 60 miles away. He said the eruption was likely caused by steam pressure building within the mountain. The nation’s civil defense ministry said eruption activity was subsiding though it still urged caution for people who were in the vicinity of the volcano. The park has closed hiking trails and sleeping huts on the mountain for now. –CSM
Caught by suprise: GNS Science volcanologist Michael Rosenberg said volcanic activity could continue for weeks. “This eruption caught us by surprise. We’ve been monitoring the area after earthquakes, but we didn’t expect this,” he told TVNZ. –Discovery News
Unpredictable menace: Monday’s Tongariro eruption could be the start of a multitude of larger eruptions, spewing even more ash into the air, a disasters and hazards expert says. Dr. Thomas Wilson, lecturer in hazards and disaster management at Canterbury University, says activity on the mountain could change quickly. However, it is difficult to know what will happen next and although things could get worse the volcano might settle down completely or small eruptions could continue. “I can’t give you any probabilities on the likelihood of these scenarios,” he said. “But we can’t rule anything out at this stage.” The volcano erupted at 11.50pm, spewing ash from the Te Maari craters on the northern side of the mountain. It has disrupted flights over the central North Island, and aerial news footage shows a fine covering of ash downwind from the volcano. What happened in southern Japan following the eruption of the Shinmoedake volcano in 2011 is similar to what would happen in New Zealand if a much larger eruption was to occur at Tongariro, Dr Wilson says. Centimetres of ash covered farms and towns, impacting on agriculture but it took just six months for things to return to normal.  –3 News
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11 Responses to Mount Tongariro eruption takes New Zealanders by surprise: volcanic lesson will be repeated many more times in the future

  1. This is rather reminiscent of how the Mount St. Helens eruption progressed. There were a few minor explosive and ash producing events prior to the big blowout. I’d stay clear of this one no matter what the experts say.


  2. tasmanianyeti says:

    take a look at google earth where this volcano is situated in relation to lake taupo.
    now be aware that huge magma chambers this close to each other could be one in the same-
    ie super volcano, there seems to be a distinct line of deformation from the north coast heading south “previous eruptions” scary stuff…


  3. George Brenner says:

    I just referred to page 166 in Hazard; it shows many volcanoes for such a small geographic area.


    • Wonderful, and yes, it does. Leading up to this, the North Island was plagued by a series of earthquakes that many local geologists dismissed as insignificant. I don’t think that mistake will be made again. Basically, this is how these changes can and, in some cases, will unfold. Volcanic eruptions and unrest coming in cascading fashion will little or almost no warning.

      Stay prepared…


      • janine says:

        As for the headlines, this New Zealander was expecting it. A swarm of EQ around a volcanic mountain within a short space of time usually equals eruption. What worries me more is the activity off the Bay of Plenty of NZ. Te Araroa off the east coast of NZ. Most of the earth quakes there are not being reported but why?? There was one the other day that was 4.8 but wasn’t listed on any sites.


      • IM

        GNS Science volcanologist Michael Rosenberg said volcanic activity could continue for weeks. “This eruption caught us by surprise. We’ve been monitoring the area after earthquakes, but we didn’t expect this,” he told TVNZ. –Discovery News

        If they were monitoring the mountain and didn’t see it coming; what hope is there for the populace at large? This is one reason we cannot depend on science to forecast these changes. This is the unspoken aspect of ‘catastrophic geology‘ that most scientist don’t like to even readily admit exists. The fact is, the planet can be transformed literally overnight by geological events. This is the nature of the change before us, and most of it will come with little or no warning. If it cannot be predicted, certainly, the potential impacts on societies cannot be reasonably assessed, or even mitigated.

        This is why I stress over and over again, preparation before crisis



  4. Conor Brennan says:

    My friend lives within forty miles of the volcano and the local authorities have advised all people to regularly check their water. They seem to be worried that noxious substances and by products of the volcano can escape into the local water table.


    • Poison gases and residue is always a high concern for volcanic eruptions; especially from one which haven’t erupted in over a century- because scientists have no idea what’s been churning inside one for over a hundred years. Volcanic eruptions will sooner or later be the dominant story in world news.


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