Not the apocalypse…not yet…

Here in New Zealand we woke Tuesday morning to news that Mount Tongariro had erupted – briefly, but with enough vigour to send ash falling over my home town, Napier. I don’t live there these days, but I have family who do.

The Oruanui eruption, Taupo, 26,500 BP. From

It was the first eruption of Tongariro since 1897 and came by surprise. New Zealand has an excellent seismograph and volcano warning system – there are live webcams in the craters. Here’s White Island’s, complete with dinosaur. But this Tongariro eruption was left-field. It’s officially over as I write this – Geological and Nuclear Sciences have reduced the danger level – but White Island also erupted last week and Ruapehu is on heightened alert.

All these are tiddlers beside Lake Taupo, an active caldera in the same league as Toba and Yellowstone. The last big eruption, Hatepe, was around 180-230 AD and coated the central plateau with ash. It also gave the Romans and Chinese wonderful sunsets. The Oruanui eruption, around 26,500 years before the present, was the largest the world has seen in the last 70,000 years. It changed the structure of the lake, obliterated everything in the central North Island, and sent dust whipping through the upper air worldwide.

The immediate risk, though, is Auckland.  William Hobson chose the site in 1841 on the back of musket wars politics. Nobody knew, then, that it was atop a lava field. That’s why there are so many small extinct volcanoes – they’re driven from one source, and it erupts in a new place, usually, every time. Maori knew. Rangitoto – that island in the middle of the Waitemata – means ‘bleeding sky’. Hmmn…

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012


9 thoughts on “Not the apocalypse…not yet…

    1. Not with Tongariro, but there have been concerns about a possible Auckland volcano. The conscious worry is earthquake – they’re much more common than volcanic eruptions here.

  1. For many years I lived near Yellowstone–state of Wyoming in the US– used to hike various trails about this time every year. In the late 80s and early 90s, there were some pretty good tremors and there was an uneasiness regarding the “explosive” nature of the park. Have no idea what the local feeling about the park is in the last 20 years but I do remember that feeling of awe regarding the nature of Yellowstone.

    In the immortal words of Rosanne, Rosanna Danna: “it’s always something.”


    1. The bigger issue in New Zealand is earthquakes – these are more frequent and since the Christchurch quakes of 2010-11, more immediate in the mind. A major volcanic event is going to be more destructive, but they don’t happen too often.

      Latest news today is that Tongariro has quietened (but lots of small quakes) but White Island – further up the same line, out to sea – has erupted today and splatted the webcam they usually use for a visual check. I hope the dinosaur is OK. (Somebody put a purple toy dinosaur in front of the webcam during a visit a year or two back).

      When I was a kid we used to go on holidays to Rotorua – our massively active thermal region on another old volcanic caldera. I’ve been back many times since, and the place always carries that sense of drama – not because of the imminence of any volcano, but purely from the location with its boiling mud, geysers, hot pools and sulphurous smell. The revealed power of planet earth certainly makes us think about our place in the scheme of such things.

  2. If, by a couple of years, you mean since 2004.
    Some people are very interested in what happy-meal-type promotion that toy came out of, since the plastic has shown remarkable resistance to the frankly nasty atmosphere out there.
    And they know who put it there, but they’re not telling.

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