Tavurvur, Rabaul Caldera, New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea

Location: 4.3S, 152.2E
Elevation: 2,257 feet (688 m)
Last Updated: 14 September 2000
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10 September 2000

On 6 September, the stratovolcano Tavurvur erupted sending thick clouds of ash over the town of Rabual. Tavurvur began showing signs of increased activity last week, although volcanologists did not issue any alerts at that time. In 1994, a powerful explosive eruption forced the abandonment of Rabul. The New Britain Island trading port is surrounded by six volcanoes.

This information was summarized from Smithsonian's Institution's Preliminary Notices of Volcanic Activity and Discovery Online.


1 June 1997

The National Online, the homepage of Papua New Guinea's daily newspaper, reported that the Tavurvur vent of the Rabual Volcano was erupting. Ash from the eruption was raining on the town of Rabual. Ash and pumice fall was so dense in some parts of the city that visibilty was down to a few meters.


19 September 1994

On the morning of September 19, 1994, two volcanic cones on the opposite sides of the 3.8 mile (6 km) Rabaul caldera begun erupting with little warning. The Space Shuttle Discovery flew just east of the eruption roughly 24 hours after it started and near the peak of its activity. New Ireland, the cloud covered area in the foreground, lies just east of Rabaul harbor. This photo shows the large white billowing eruption plume is carried in a westerly direction by the weak prevailing winds. At the base of the eruption column is a layer of yellow-brown ash being distributed by lower level winds. A sharp boundary moving outward from the center of the eruption in the lower cloud is a pulse of laterally-moving ash which results from a volcanic explosion. Space Shuttle Discover image taken on 09/19/94 from STS-64 (STS64-116-064)


A small phreatic eruption at Tavurvur in 1937 consisted of a violent steam explosion that blasted out the main central crater. The focus of the 1937 eruption was at Vulcan, another vent at Rabaul. At least 441 people were killed by pyroclastic flows and tephra in the 1937 eruption. A moderate-sized explosive eruption (VEI=2) started at Tavurvur on June 6, 1941. Noticeable precursor activity began 16 months earlier. Tavurvur also erupted in late 1943. It was the last eruption at Tavurvur prior to the 1994 eruption.

During the 1994 eruption both Tavurvur and Vulcan where active. During the first four months of the eruption, Vulcanian-type activity was nearly continuous at Tavurvur. Tavurvur also produced lava flows. Activity at Vulcan ended in early October. Tavurvur continued to produce explosions in early 1995. Larger explosions produced plumes that rose 2 miles (3 km) above the cone. Some of the explosions threw blocks about 1,700 feet (0.5 km) to the bay. Lightning was seen in some of the eruption clouds. In March, a lava mound was observed inside the crater of Tavurvur. In April, explosions stopped at Tavurvur and people returned to the city of Rabaul. A single death, caused by flooding, was associated with the eruption.

NASA SIR-C image of Rabaul caldera.

General geologic features at Rabaul based on Greene and others (1986) and Heming (1974).

This photo shows Rabaul Caldera from the Rabaul Volcano Observatory. The gray cone in the upper left is Tavurvur. The caldera formed during a major eruption and collapse in the 6th century. There have been nine historical eruptions from vents at Rabaul Caldera.

Tavurvur (also called Matupi) is a stratavolcano associated with the Rabaul caldera. This is the summit crater of the volcano before the 1994 eruption. Photograph by C. Ollier.

Crater wall of Tavurvur before the 1994 eruption. Photograph by C. Ollier.

Plate tectonic map of the Papua New Guinea region. Based on Heming (1974) and Herzig and others (1994).


Sources of Information:

Fisher, N.H., 1976, 1941-42 eruption of Tavurvur volcano, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, in Johnson, R.W., ed., Volcanism in Australasia: New York, Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, p. 201-210.

Green, H.G., Tiffin, D.L., and McKee, C.O., 1986, Structural deformation and sedimentation in an active caldera, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea: Journal of Volcanology and geothermal Research, v. 30, p. 327-356.

Herzig, P., Hannington, M, McInnes, B., Stoffers, P., Villinger, H., Seifert, R, Binns, R., and Liebe, T. 1994. Submarine volcanism and hydrothermal venting studied in Papua New Guinea, EOS, American Geophysical Union, 75 (44), 513-516.

Heming, R.F., 1974, Geology and petrology of Rabaul Caldera, Papua New Guinea: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 85, p. 1253-1264.

Shuttle Images at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Simkin, T., and Siebert, L., 1994, Volcanoes of the World: Geoscience Press, Tucson, Arizona, 349 p.



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