Auckland volcanic eruption could look similar to Hawaii’s Mt Kilauea, scientists say

Volcanic eruptions happening overseas are providing a picture of what could happen in Auckland, according to scientists.

Volcanic eruptions happening overseas are providing a picture of what could happen in Auckland, say vulcanologists. Source: 1 NEWS

The Auckland Volcanic Field doesn't have an active shield volcano, like Hawaii's Mount Kilauea or Vanuatu's Ambae island volcano, but it does have the same basalt magma.

While Mount Kilauea's eruption is currently causing gentle lava flows, when the magma mixes with water, it can generate more explosive eruptions.

That's exactly what's been happening in Vanuatu, and in a future Auckland eruption both situations are possible.

Volcanologist Dr Jan Lindsay says at Mount Kilauea "these explosive eruptions may occur if the lava starts interacting with the ground water".

Scientists working on the DEtermining VOlcanic Risk in Auckland project, or DEVORA, are particularly interested in how the lava in Hawaii is interacting with the built environments.

"So how the roads for example are burning when the lava comes into contact with it, how buildings are catching fire, how fast the lava is travelling," Dr Lindsay says.

"We're learning about how the lava is impacting upon lifelines like water supply and electricity.

"There've been both electricity outages and water outages in Hawaii and in Auckland we have a lot of buried infrastructure so how far the heat travels into the ground is of interest."

Dr Angela Doherty from Auckland Emergency Management says that preparation and speed of warnings are key.

"What we've seen mainly is the importance of getting information out in a timely manner and making sure that information is accurate," she says.

The Auckland Volcanic Field has had several eruptions in a few thousand years, according to GNS, and it's also had quite big quiet breaks.

"But Rangitoto was only 550 years ago, so the biggest eruption it's had is quite recent and it's really worth us preparing for but it's still not that likely in any one person's lifetime" Geologist Graham Leonard says.

DEVORA are putting together eight mock scenarios detailing what might happen in an Auckland volcanic eruption, which will help with preparedness.

"The recent scenarios have been developed using all the current techniques, data and knowledge of the field.. to get the best idea of how a volcanic eruption in Auckland might impact on our society," Dr Lindsay says.

Scientists are constantly monitoring volcanic activity in New Zealand and there could be days to weeks of notice for an eruption.