Geological constraints on fluid flow at Whakaari volcano (White Island)
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
This study assesses the geological constraints on fluid flow within the main crater of Whakaari volcano (White Island) which is located in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. A review of the volcanological and morphological history, field mapping, and permeability experiments were used to propose a model for single-state (gas or liquid water) fluid flow in the volcano. Three structural scales were of most importance: (a) the elongate main crater (1.2 km by 0.5 km); which contains (b) three subcraters (~300-500 m in diameter); and (c) >14 historic eruption craters and crater complexes (30-300 m in diameter).
A large (2.1x10⁸ m³) sector collapse formed the basic morphology and structure of the amphitheatre-like main crater ≤3.4 ka. Hot fluids are released from magma at ~1–2 km depth and circulated within a conduit-hosted volcano-hydrothermal system. The collapse event was likely to have removed low permeability cone lavas, significantly increasing meteoric water collection and lateral seawater infiltration within high permeability main crater fill above the magma conduit. It is proposed that this caused a susceptibility to ‘wet’ (i.e. phreatic and phreatomagmatic) eruptions which possibly formed three prehistoric subcraters and has been demonstrated in the last ~200 years of available historic record. The permeability of the remaining in-situ cone lavas is controlled by micro- (<1 mm) and macro- (>1 mm) cracks but despite these cracks, the cone lavas’ permeability is still sufficiently low to focus rising magmatic fluid flow through main crater fill. Low-to-high permeability lithified tuffs are inferred to fill the main crater at depth. Low permeability fine ash tuffs generally restrict vertical fluid flow put permit it when vertical trains of vesicles are present. Atmospheric steam and gas pluming is accommodated by a permeable zone of repeated and overlapping historic eruption crater-related discontinuities that extend to >250 m depth through highly permeable unlithified main crater fill in the west. It is likely to be this material into which the seawater infiltrates from the east. Throughout the main crater, fluid flow is focussed at subcrater margins due to steeply-dipping discontinuities between low permeability lava and low-to-high permeability crater fill deposits. The variable permeabilities of crater fill deposits are due to age-related factors of hydrothermal alteration, reworking/sorting, consolidation, and pore mineralisation. At shallow levels (<100 m depth), vertical fluid flow is diverted to historic eruption crater margins by very low permeability clay (reworked and altered tephra). High permeability coarse ash tuffs, Fe-rich lapilli tuffs, and surficial solfatara deposits do not appear to have much effect on the overall fluid flow system.
The results of this study show that, within active volcanic craters, the spatial distributions of variably permeable lithologies are often related to discontinuous cratering structures. Together, these are significant geological constraints on fluid flow. Morphological changes to crater structure can directly impact the groundwater regime above the magma conduit and may strongly influence the occurrence of wet versus dry eruptions. This process is possibly a significant control on eruptive behaviour at volcanoes with similar fluid flow systems worldwide.