National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2016

Reconstruction of the geology and structure of Lake Rotomahana and its hydrothermal systems from high-resolution multibeam mapping and seismic surveys: Effects of the 1886 Mt. Tarawera eruption.

de Ronde, C.E.J., S.L. Walker, C. LeBlanc, B.W. Davy, D.J. Fornari, F. Caratori Tontini, B.J. Scott, F.H. Seebeck, T.J. Stewart, A. Mazot, A. Nicol, and M.A. Tivey

J. Volcanol. Geoth. Res., 314, 57–83, doi: 10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2016.02.002, Special issue: The Lake Rotomahana Geothermal System and Effects of the 1886 Mt. Tarawera Eruption (2016)

Present-day Lake Rotomahana is one of the two focal points of the most destructive eruption in New Zealand's historical record, i.e., that of Mt. Tarawera on 10 June 1886, with devastating loss of life and presumed destruction of the iconic Pink and White Terraces that adorned the margins of the lake. Basaltic dikes are considered to have ascended near surface in the area, intruding into hydrothermally altered and water-saturated ground beneath the existing lake. The consequential hydrothermal and phreatomagmatic eruptions ejected 0.5325 km3 of material from the lakefloor and below, plastering the nearby landscape for several kilometers with mud and other debris. The eruption buried the natural outlet of the lake, with the bottom of the craters becoming filled by water within months and completely concealed from view within years; today Lake Rotomahana has depths up to 118 m.

High-resolution (0.5 m) bathymetric mapping, when combined with a 2-D seismic reflection survey, enables us to ‘see’ details of the maar craters on the lakefloor, including those parts subsequently buried by sediment. The large Rotomahana Crater described by workers immediately after the eruption measures ~ 2.5 km in diameter near its southwestern end, and excavated ground to 155 m below present-day lake level. The vent system, as revealed by the present study, forms an array of right-stepping (dextral) craters, with the main crater being host to two sub-craters Rotomahana West Crater and Rotomahana East Crater today buried beneath the lakefloor, and which are in-filled by 36 and 37 m of sediment, respectively. Subordinate craters along the same 057° Tarawera Rift trace include Hochstetter Crater (11 m of infill), Waingongongongo Crater (14 m) and Rotomakariri Crater (26 m). These craters host a total 0.0268 km3 of sediment. Other features highlighted by the bathymetric data include; craters not filled by sediment, sediment fan deltas, volcanic ridges and dikes, submerged wave-cut terraces formed during times of lower lake levels and gas pockmarks, all either related to the 1886 eruptive episode or post-eruption hydrothermal and erosional processes.

Application of results from bubble plume, CO2 flux, magnetic and heat flux surveys of Lake Rotomahana to this study, when combined with regional earthquake relocation analysis and broadband magnetotelluric data, suggest an explanation in terms of a magmatic heat source located south of Waimangu and a corresponding convective water/heat transport system extending thence to beneath the western end of the lake. A holistic approach has provided a coherent context for the eruption and its effect on the historical Pink and White Terraces hydrothermal system that appears to have been the eastern-most extension of a larger system that lay beneath the Waimangu area before the eruption. The newly named Pink Terraces hydrothermal system (~ 1.5 km2) is a continuation of the historical hydrothermal activity that was concentrated on the western shores of the old lake, and together with the formation of the new, post-1886 Patiti hydrothermal system (~ 1 km2) located SW of Patiti Island, mark the two distinct areas of hydrothermal activity in the lake today.

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