Why White Island Volcano Erupted Without Warning

livescience.com | 12/9/2019 | Shane Cronin
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Five people have been confirmed dead, 31 remain in hospital with injuries and eight are still missing after sudden volcanic eruptions on Whakaari/White Island off the east coast of New Zealand.

The island is a tourist destination and 47 people were on it when it erupted on Monday afternoon. Three of those rescued have now been discharged from hospital.

Volcanologists - GeoNet - Hazard - Monitoring - System

Volcanologists at GeoNet, which operates a geological hazard monitoring system, described the eruption as impulsive and short-lived, with an ash plume that rose to more than three kilometers above the vent.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this morning praised the courage of the first responders and pilots who conducted an aerial survey. She confirmed that the flyovers have shown no signs of life. Police are today assessing whether it is safe to return to the island for a recovery operation.

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White Island is one of several volcanoes in New Zealand that can produce sudden explosive eruptions at any time. In this case, magma is shallow, and the heat and gases affect surface and ground water to form vigorous hydrothermal systems.

Water - Pores - Rocks - State - Process

In these, water is trapped in pores of rocks in a super-heated state. Any external process, such as an earthquake, gas input from below, or even a change in the lake water level can tip this delicate balance and release the pressure on the hot and trapped water.

The resulting steam-driven eruption, also called a hydrothermal or phreatic eruption, can happen suddenly and with little to no warning. The expansion of water into steam is supersonic in speed and the liquid can expand to 1,700 times its original volume. This produces catastrophic impacts.

Expansion - Energy - Rock - Craters - Rock

The expansion energy is enough to shatter solid rock, excavate craters and eject rock fragments and ash out to hundreds of meters away from the vent. We know of sites in New Zealand...
(Excerpt) Read more at: livescience.com
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