New Volcanic Futures

Unifying tephrostratigraphic approaches to redefine major Holocene marker tephras, Mt. Taranaki, New Zealand

Economic Impact & Health & Wellbeing | Mount Taranaki | 10.04.2023



In this study, geochemical fingerprinting of glass shards and titanomagnetite phenocrysts was used to match twenty complex pyroclastic deposits from the flanks of Mt. Taranaki to major tephra fall “marker beds” in medial and distal deposition sites.
These correlations hinged upon identifying time-bound compositional changes (a chemostratigraphy) in distal Taranaki tephra-fall sequences preserved in lake and peat sediment records around the volcano.
The current work shows that previous soil-stratigraphy based studies led to miscorrelations, because they relied upon radiocarbon dates, a “counting back” approach, and an underestimate of the number of eruptions that actually occurred in any time frame.
The new tephrostratigraphy proposed at Mt. Taranaki resulted from stratigraphic rearranging of several earlier-defined units.
Some tephra units are older than previously determined (e.g., Waipuku, Tariki, and Mangatoki; ~ 6 to 9 cal ka BP), while one of the most prominent Taranaki marker tephra deposit, the Korito, is shown to lie stratigraphically above a widespread rhyolitic marker bed from Taupo volcano, the Stent Tephra (also known as unit Q; ~ 4.3 cal ka BP). Pyroclastic tephra deposits previously dated between ~ 6 to 4 cal ka BP at a key tephra section, c. 40 km NE of Mt.
Taranaki’s summit, were misidentified and are now shown to comprise new marker tephra deposits, including the Kokowai (~ 4.7 cal ka BP), which is a prominent marker horizon on the eastern flanks of the volcano.
A new local proximal stratigraphy for < 5 cal ka BP tephra units can be well correlated to tephra layers within distal lake and peat sequences, but the differences between the two records indicates an overall larger number of eruptions have occurred at this volcano than previously thought.
This study additionally demonstrates the utility of titanomagnetite chemistry for discrimination and correlation of groups or sequences of tephra deposits – even if unique compositions cannot be identified.