After lying dormant for more than 115 years, Mount Tongariro erupted on the North Island of New Zealand, sending ash over four miles into the sky and disrupting air and ground travel. The eruption happened around 11:50pm on Monday in the Te Maari craters on the northern side of the volcano.
Since the volcano is located in a national park, the eruption has disrupted tourism in the area. A lot of visitors walk through the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, but huts and hiking tracks around the mountain were closed until otherwise stated. The Conservation Department reported that three overnight hikers had been evacuated from Mangatepopo hut safely. Spokesperson Nic Peet said Ketetahi hut was damaged by falling debris, as it sits closer to the Te Maari craters. They added that visitors may have been injured or killed if they were inside during the eruption. While the Tongariro Northern Circuit and Tongariro Alpine Crossing were closed, all other parts of the park stayed open.
Domestic air travel across the region was disrupted, with national carrier Air New Zealand having to cancel services in Napier, Gisborne, Palmerston North, Taupo and Rotorua. This was because of the risk of ash to the planes’ engines, but many flights to regional airports were resumed by Tuesday evening. However, Auckland Airport said that about two dozen domestic services to and from the airport were cancelled for Wednesday morning. Despite the disruption to domestic flights, no international services were affected.
Since the ash was covering nearby roads, some had to be closed to traffic. The New Zealand Transport Agency said Desert Road was shut down for a while. This is a stretch of motorway that links Wellington (the political capital) to Auckland (the commercial capital). However, after the ash cloud blew away on Tuesday, all state highways were reopened across the area. The GNS Science agency downgraded its alert for the area from red to orange, and road maintenance crews were sweeping the ash away.
Mount Tongariro sits near the popular winter ski resorts at Mt Ruapehu. All three ski resorts in the area – Whakapapa, Tukino and Turoa – reported usual business on Tuesday and no ash was headed in their direction. The Ministry of Civil Defense & Emergency Management said that there weren’t any reports of injuries or serious damage caused by the eruption; but there were some travel delays.
Government scientists think the volcanic eruption was caused by steam instead of magma, and they can’t rule out anymore explosions. GNS Science volcanologist Brad Scott said that it wouldn’t be surprising if there were more small eruptions. Although New Zealand has a volatile geology and volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are rather common, Tongariro’s explosion was a little surprising. They had seen some gas signatures, he added, but nothing was going on in the latest data to indicate an eruption was coming…until Monday night.
Scientists had noticed small eruptions on White Island on Sunday. This island is an offshore volcano positioned about 110 miles north of Tongariro, but both are in the Taupo Volcanic Zone. Despite the eruptions happening so close together, scientists don’t think the events are related. However, they did come less than a month before the second anniversary of a magnitude 7 earthquake that hit the city of Christchurch in the South Island. Since then, the University of Canterbury says there have been 10,560 shakes, including a big one in February last year that killed 185 people.Author's Google+ page