With deep condolences to the affected families and friends of those lost or injured, with respect, a tracing of safety fault. Haere, haere, haere, ngaa hoa mate o Aotearoa.

Whakaari/White Island – patient status – Ministry of Health – Manatū Hauora
Urgency of daily EQNZ risk – Whakaari / White Island, 9 December 2019 – a cautionary analysis:

If the significant eruptive event of 9 November 2019 (that kicked the 6-month developing volcanic process up another gear, leading to a deadly harmful “moderate” event of 9Dec2019) was noticed in itself, as a warning for everyone to keep clear for a month, what record is apparent of that? ..


Nine whole days later comes the formal, hyper-cautious response (conservative of what, foremost – business as usual, scientific reputation, political relationships and quiescent public mood …? ):

Whakaari/White Island: Background activity increases further
Volcanic Alert BulletinWI – 2019/09
Mon Nov 18 2019 12:00 PM; White Island Volcano
Volcanic Alert Level is raised to 2
Aviation Colour Code is raised to Yellow
“Volcanic unrest continues at Whakaari/White Island and some monitored parameters show further increases in activity. Hazards on the island are now greater than during the past few weeks, and the Volcanic Alert Level is raised to Level 2… In the past few weeks, the level of volcanic tremor has also increased from weak to moderate strength… The number or locations of earthquakes beneath or near the island have not changed… the monitored parameters are just above the expected range for minor volcanic unrest and associated hazards. The patterns of signals are similar to those through the 2011—2016 period and suggest that Whakaari/White Island may be entering a period where eruptive activity is more likely than normal… Volcanic Alert Level 2 is mostly associated with unrest hazards on the volcano and could include eruptions of steam, gas, mud and rocks. These eruptions can occur with little or no warning.”

Whakaari/White Island: Moderate volcanic unrest continues
Volcanic Alert BulletinWI – 2019/10
Mon Nov 25 2019 2:00 PM; White Island Volcano
Volcanic Alert Level remains at 2
Aviation Colour Code remains at Yellow
“There has been no change in activity at the volcano after the deep magnitude 5.9 earthquake, that occurred beneath eastern Bay of Plenty on Sunday 24 November… volcanic tremor remains at moderate levels. There have been few earthquakes near the island… fountaining is regularly throwing mud a few metres into the air at the vent but at current levels does not pose a hazard to visitors… in the expected range for moderate volcanic unrest and associated hazards. The monitoring observations are similar to those seen in the more active 2011—2016 period and suggest that Whakaari/White Island may be entering a period where eruptive activity is more likely than normal… Level 2 is mostly associated with unrest hazards on the volcano and could include eruptions of steam, gas, mud and rocks. These eruptions can occur with little or no warning.”

Whakaari/White Island: Moderate volcanic unrest continues
Volcanic Alert BulletinWI – 2019/11
Tue Dec 3 2019 1:00 PM; White Island Volcano
Volcanic Alert Level remains at 2
Aviation Colour Code remains at Yellow
“Explosive gas and steam-driven mud jetting continues from the active vent area… style of activity has been present since late September, although it is occurring more frequently now. No volcanic ash is being produced. Volcanic gas emission and seismic activity continue to remain elevated… Volcanic tremor also remains at moderate levels in the last week… level of activity is variable and remains within the range expected for moderate volcanic unrest. While the activity is contained to the far side of the lake, the current level of activity does not pose a direct hazard to visitors… some similarities with those seen during the 2011-2016 period when Whakaari/White Island was more active and stronger volcanic activity occurred… may be entering a period where eruptive activity is more likely than normal… Volcanic Alert Level 2 is mostly associated with unrest hazards on the volcano and could include eruptions of steam, gas, mud and rocks. These eruptions can occur with little or no warning.”

The two highlighted phrases in the above paragraph stand in direct contradiction to each other. Interpretation of immediate risk was thus loosely allowed to fail.

Language gaps and repetition are features of these three most recent reports. Leading up to them, in summary, there were two earthquake swarms earlier in the year (kept in silo). Then three other indicators were also too casually discounted: the rising crater lake, temperature and gas levels – “the highest [gas] value recorded since 2013 and the 2nd highest since regular measurements began in 2003”. Read all Volcanic Alert Bulletins here: geonet.org.nz/volcano/vab/all.

It seems to me, the greatest problem exists where the category “moderate” volcanic activity is one relating to (commercial) aviation risk, where at (human) ground level it can be a deadly risk and truly immoderate.

The next greatest problem, I would say, was de-prioritising this hazard, under the present conditions, from a Monday inspection cycle to a Tuesday, without which the Monday tragedy may have been avoided. – Who made that GNS decision, when and why? At least please clarify the inspection and reporting schedule around this hazard.

Thirdly, ‘the international best practise’.., if that is what determines this, of treating each and every seismic event as a unique and unrelated item (‘in a silo’), may have limited perception of this emerging volcanic crisis. Can this quake isolation approach be explained or reviewed at all?

GNS-defined no-go hazard zone, ‘as it would have applied on 9Dec2019’, in hindsight Thursday:

GNS hazard exclusion zone 2019-12-12

GNS Whakaari / White Island hazard exclusion zone 2019-12-12

Generally, we need to support science and scientists better and much more – for at times they provide our only lifeline. Help them to improve their work for us all.

The main question I have for GNS, is, why no particular study or escalation of alert around the 28Oct2019 Whakaari earthquake swarm? which could have averted tragedy, echoed on 6Dec19:

earthquakes near White Island over the past 2 months

Earthquakes near White Island over the past 2 months. Graphic source: geonet.org.nz/volcano/eqstats/whiteisland


Earthquakes near White Island over the past 2 months.

Earthquakes near White Island over the past 2 months

“The eruption is not caused by magma, but by steam, and this is much harder to track in our current monitoring systems.”[1]

“GNS also makes three monthly visits to test water, gas and soil, as well as to make surveys of surface deformation.”[2]

“It’s tapu because of the fact that we have our distinguished dead there.”[3]

“Tāupo volcanic zone.. runs from Ruapehu to White Island.. measured as some of the most productive volcanism on earth”. [4]

Godspeed and safe travels to the NZDF and NZPolice recovery operation 13.12.19

“In 2012, a lava dome was spotted and the alert level raised from one to two.. lava dome growth can be accompanied by explosive eruptions and could impact people on the island” [5]

“Overnight web camera images recorded a glow from the vent area, confirming high heat flow” [6]

Yet lower earthquake frequency leads to a lowering to “35-50% chance (medium likelihood) of an eruption occurring that could impact outside of the marked vent area within the next 24 hours” [7]

With sadness, “Police confirm another death“, taking fatal incident toll to 17 (so far), 14Dec2019

With sadness, “A sixteenth person has died” officially, taking fatal incident toll to 18, 15Dec2019

With sadness, the “Seventeenth person dies” officially, taking fatal incident toll to 19, 23Dec2019

With sadness, the “Official death toll rises to 18“, taking fatal incident toll to 20, 13Jan2020

Whakaari / White Island eruption: two missing people officially listed as dead, 23Jan2020

With sadness, the official “Whakaari/White Island eruption: Death toll rises to 21“, 29Jan2020

13Nov-13Dec19 quake intensity Whakaari

13Nov-13Dec19 quake intensity Whakaari


Comparing this graphic to earliest released in the sequence, showing tail of 9Nov2019 event only:
10Nov-10Dec19 quake intensity Whakaari

10Nov-10Dec19 quake intensity Whakaari

If GNS estimates are correct, and this was just a typical ‘Whakaari cough’, then there will be no significant eruption soon following the current anomalous (markedly quiet) seismic situation:

The reason being, the risen magma has burnt off (evaporated) its water table cap and punched through the rock overlay already, allowing free lava expansion movement and degassing thanks to the phreatic explosion of 9Dec. See also Deep Earth Carbon Degassing Project re “order of magnitude uncertainty in current volcanic/tectonic carbon outgassing makes answering fundamental questions about the global carbon budget virtually impossible”.

Caring for yourself and others before, during and after a crisis – New Zealand Red Cross

Some full documentation of events and context are (draft listing of information sources) at:
GeoNet.org.nz Whakaari/White Island – Updates & /volcano/monitoring/whiteisland +
RNZ.co.nz/news/Whakaari-White-Island/ & RNZ news update blog 12/12 / 13/12 etc & Aotearoa sits over two continental plates, and Whakaari / White Island is just one of many volcanoes &
Tourists visiting New Zealand need to be well-informed of risks, professor says &
[1] Why White Island erupted and why there was no warning &
[2] Whakaari / White Island eruption: What scientists say about the volcano &
[3] The beauty and the menace of Whakaari &
[4] When Aotearoa heats up from below etc RNZ stories +
Why White Island erupted and why there was no warning The Conversation +
Whakaari/White Island volcano: Unlucky timing or unsafe system? Stuff +
White Island: A stark, dangerous and wondrous place stuff.co.nz/travel/destinations 5Nov2017 +
Whakaari/White Island: Tourism operators offering unregistered adventures risk $50,000 fines stuff.co.nz/business 14Dec2019 +
[5] A level two sense of security Newsroom +
[6] VOLCANIC ALERT BULLETINWI – 2019/22 Sat Dec 14 2019 11:30 AM; White Island Volcano &
[7] Whakaari/White Island likelihood of future eruption: Update #4 GeoNet +
nzherald.co.nz many articles +
White Island Tours by boat (suspended) +
Volcanic Air – White Island ACTIVE VOLCANO WALKING TOUR (suspended) +
White Island Volcano Adventure Kahu NZ (formerly Frontier Helicopters) Frontier Group NZ +


+ Criticising experts in the wake of tragedy Stuff, 17 Dec 2019, a thoughtful note
+ etc. etc. Then
White Island volcano victims to sue Royal Caribbean RNZ, 27 April 2020.