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A Study of Some Aspects of the Volcanic History of the Lake Taupo Area, North Island, New Zealand

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posted on 2021-11-08, 08:41 authored by Froggatt, Paul C

Rhyolitic pyroclastic eruptives from the Taupo area, New Zealand have been mapped as nine tephra formations of Holocene (0-10 kyr B.P.), and six of late Pleistocene age (20-c.50 kyr B.P.). Only the 10 younger tephras are dated by radiocarbon. All formations contain PLINIAN type airfall units but three, KAWAKAWA, WAIMIHIA and TAUPO also contain a major pyroclastic flow deposit (IGNIMBRIIE) unit. Dome extrusion can only be demonstrated for KARAPITI eruptive episode, but is inferred for the other Holocene episodes. TAUPO IGNIMBRITE is the product of the most recent eruption and is a particularly well preserved and extensive, unwelded pyroclastic flow deposit, up to 50m thick. Its variety of appearance is described in terms of three lithofacies; valley facies, fines depleted facies and veneer facies, each being formed by particular mechanisms within a pyroclastic flow. Abundant charred logs, lying prone within Taupo Ignimbrite, are radial about the source and attest to a radially outward moving mass dominated by laminar flow. Lake Taupo today covers most of the volcanic source area, preventing close examination and the identification of individual source vents. A vent for each Holocene tephra is inferred from isopachs, grainsize and lake bathymetry, but the vents so inferred show no spatial distribution with time. Nevertheless they are evenly spaced along a northeast trending line and lie on intersections with a northwest trending set of lineations, indicating deep, crustal, structural control on volcanism. Cumulative volume of airfall and ignimbrite material erupted in the Taupo area in the last 50 kyr has amounted to about 175 km3 of magma. Eruptions have proceeded in a step-wise manner, indicating the period to the next eruption is about 8 kyr. By the same approach, the next eruption from the Okataina area, 50 km to the north of Taupo is expected in less than 400 years. Whole rock and mineral chemistry clearly distinguishes between the Holocene and the late Pleistocene tephras, but within each group variations are subtle and no trends with time are apparent. None of the formations exhibit evidence for a chemically zoned magma body, but some data, especially pyroxene phenocryst chemistry, suggests magma inhomogeneities of mafic elements. The Holocene tephra were probably all erupted from the same magma chamber in which crystallisation was the dominant process but convection, crystal element diffusion and chamber replenishment were all probably operative. Results obtained by electron microprobe analysis of glass shards are critically dependent on the beam diameter and current used. By standardising these at 10 microns and 8 nanoamps respectively, comparable major element analyses on glass shards from numerous tephras ranging in age from 20 kyr to 600 kyr were obtained. The stratigraphic relationships between sets of samples (located mainly distal from source) and the close chemical similarity of some samples enabled a comprehensive tephrostratigraphy to be established. In particular, MT. CURL TEPHRA has a glass chemistry quite different from other stratigraphically separate tephras, establishing correlation of Mt. Curl Tephra to Whakamaru Ignimbrite. Likewise, other ignimbrite formations can be correlated to widespread airfall tephras, so establishing an absolute ignimbrite stratigraphy. Microprobe analysis of glass shards provides a method for indirectly determining the amount of hydration. For dated samples from a known weathering environment, the parameters controlling hydration can be quantified. For glass of uniform chemistry, shard size and porosity, ground temperature and groundwater movements are the most important parameters. No shards in the 63-250 micron size range have been found with more than 9% water, suggesting once this maximum is reached, glass rapidly alters to secondary products. Detailed knowledge of the volcanic history of the Taupo area, particularly since 50 kyrs B.P. allows the volcanic hazards of the region to be assessed. Fifteen major eruptions in 50 kyr gives a frequency of 1 in 3300 years, but the timing of individual events is not evenly spread throughout that time. Monitoring for volcanic Precursory events (not being undertaken at present) is essential to gauge the present and short-term future volcanic activity of the Taupo Volcanic Zone.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Vucetich, C G