Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Seismic velocity changes at White Island volcano, New Zealand, using ten years of ambient noise interferometry

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posted on 2021-12-07, 07:35 authored by Yates, Alexander

Seismic velocity changes at volcanoes carry information about stresses present within hydrothermal and magmatic systems. In this thesis, temporal velocity changes are measured at White Island volcano using ambient noise interferometry between 2007–2017. This period contains multiple well-documented eruptions starting in 2012, following an inactive period that extends back over a decade. Three primary objectives are identified: (1) investigate what seismic velocity changes can tell us about dynamic changes beneath the volcano, (2) investigate non-volcanic sources and their possible influence on interpretations, and (3) consider the potential for real-time monitoring using ambient-noise. These objectives extend beyond White Island volcano, with implications for ambient noise monitoring of volcanoes globally.  Two different approaches are used to measure velocity changes at White Island. The first involves cross-correlating noise recorded by pairs of seismic stations. Velocity changes are sought by averaging changes recorded across ten station-pairs that consist of an onshore station and a station on the volcano. The second approach involves cross-correlating the different components of individual seismic stations. This represents a less traditional approach to monitoring volcanoes, but is well-suited to White Island which has one permanent station active throughout eruptive activity. Single seismic stations located onshore are also processed to investigate background regional changes.  Two periods of long-term velocity increases are detected at the volcano. The first occurs during a highly active period in 2012–2013 and the second occurs in the months preceding an explosive eruption in April 2016. Comparison with velocities recorded by onshore stations suggest a meteorological source for these changes is unlikely. Velocity increases are therefore interpreted to reflect cracks closing under increased pressures beneath the volcano. Similarly, a rapid decline in the velocity within 2–3 months of the April 2016 eruption is interpreted to reflect depressurization of the system.  In addition to volcanic sources, we also find clear evidence of non-volcanic processes influencing velocity changes at the volcano. Two clear co-seismic velocity decreases of approximately 0.05–0.1% are associated with a Mw 5.2 earthquake in 2008 — within 10 km of the volcano — and the Mw 7.1 East Cape earthquake in 2016. The East Cape earthquake — located 200 km away from the volcano — produces significant velocity decreases over a large region, as detected by stations onshore and on White Island. This likely reflects dynamic stress changes as a result of passing seismic waves, with an eruption two weeks later interpreted here to have been triggered by this event. Finally, we identify similarities between annual variations recorded by onshore stations and changes at the volcano, suggesting an environmental influence. Velocity changes at White Island therefore represent a complex interaction of volcanic and non-volcanic processes, highlighting the need for improved understanding of external sources of change to accurately detect short-term eruptive precursors.


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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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Master of Science

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Savage, Martha; Jolly, Art