New Volcanic Futures

Kokowai Springs, Mount Egmont, New Zealand: Chemistry and mineralogy of the ochre (ferrihydrite) deposit and analysis of the waters

Economic Impact & Health & Wellbeing | Mount Taranaki | 12.05.2023


Robust time-varying volcanic hazard assessments are difficult to develop, because they depend upon having a complete and extensive eruptive activity record.

Missing events in eruption records are endemic, due to poor preservation or erosion of tephra and other volcanic deposits.

Even with many stratigraphic studies, underestimation or overestimation of eruption numbers is possible due to mis-matching tephras with similar chemical compositions or problematic age models.

It is also common to have gaps in event coverage due to sedimentary records not being available in all directions from the volcano, especially downwind.

Here, we examine the sensitivity of probabilistic hazard estimates using a suite of four new and two existing high-resolution tephra records located around Mt. Taranaki, New Zealand. Previous estimates were made using only single, or two correlated, tephra records.

In this study, tephra data from six individual sites in lake and peat bogs covering an arc of ~ 120° downwind of the volcano provided an excellent temporal high-resolution event record.

The new data confirm a previously identified semi-regular pattern of variable eruption frequency at Mt. Taranaki. Eruption intervals exhibit a bimodal distribution, with eruptions being an average of ~ 65 years apart, and in 2% of cases, centuries separate eruptions.

The long intervals are less common than seen in earlier studies, but they have not disappeared with the inclusion of our comprehensive new dataset.

Hence, the latest long interval of quiescence, since ~ AD 1800, is unusual, but not out of character with the volcano.

The new data also suggest that one of the tephra records (Lake Rotokare) used in earlier work had an old carbon effect on age determinations.

This shifted ages of the affected tephras so that they were not correlated to other sites, leading to an artificially high eruption frequency in the previous combined record.

New modelled time-varying frequency estimates suggest a 33–42% probability of an explosive eruption from Mt. Taranaki in the next 50 years, which is significantly lower than suggested by previous studies.

This work also demonstrates some of the pitfalls to be avoided in combining stratigraphic records for eruption forecasting.