Sulphur from eruption taints Wellington
SHABNAM DASTGHEIB AND MIKE WATSON
Have you been able to smell sulphur around Wellington today?
The smell of sulphur has gradually faded in Wellington, with MetService saying the rain is to thank for that.
Many people reported a strong smell of sulphur in the air in the capital this morning and GNS Science duty vulcanologist Craig Miller said it was most likely the smells were caused by the eruption at Mt Tongariro.
There had been quite a few reports from the lower North Island of a sulphur smell.
"It's a little bit surprising it has gone as far as it has. It will be dissipating as it goes," he said.
The smell has noticably faded in Wellington over the course of the day while some in Hawke's Bay are reporting it is stronger this afternoon.
MetService meteorologist Daniel Corbett said Wellington's rain would be cleansing the air, similar to walking through a shower.
He said reports that the smell was now stronger around the Hawkes Bay could be because they had a clear day.
Wind conditions were right for the smell to travel south yesterday and hadn't really changed since.
Hutt Valley resident Heidi Parker said she thought the smell was just her damp front yard at first but she could smell it all the way to work in Newtown. She said her colleagues had noticed it too.
Titahi Bay resident Robert Gibson said he and his colleagues at work had noticed the smell and were using air freshener to deal with it.
"It was a sulphury sewage-like smell. I thought my drains were blocked at first."
DOC WORKING ON RE-OPENING TRACKS
Tongariro Alpine Crossing will remain closed for the foreseeable future as the Conservation Department progressively open other tracks elsewhere in the National Park from tomorrow morning.
Conservation Department area manager Nic Peet (CRT) said today some of the more popular walking tracks in the park, such as the Taranaki Falls and Tama Lakes, in low risk areas will re-open to visitors to give the opportunity to walk across an alpine environment.
However the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which was significantly damaged by the volcanic eruption near Ketetahi Hut on Monday night, will remain closed for at least "several weeks."
"It's pretty hard to say how long the whole crossing will be closed at this stage," he said.
DOC and GNS scientists flew over the eruption zone today.
There will be a planned phased re-opening of more tracks outside the eruption zone, commencing from Monday next week, after assessing the risk with GNS Science and local iwi Ngati Hikaro, he said.
A significant risk still exists in the eruption zone around Ketetahi Hut and Te Mari crater on the northern side of Mt Tongariro, he said.
"Until we know the risk of eruption has declined and until we know it is safe to put our own staff on the ground there those facilities will remain closed."
No new eruptions have occurred since Monday night when three thermal vents spewed volcanic rocks and ash onto houses, livestock along State Highway 46.
Mr Peet said a stream from the Te Mari crater had been damned up to 150 metres wide by volcanic mud and rock forming three small lakes.
It is not known if the lakes, which are in the high risk zone and do not affect other tracks, will be a hazard in future .
DOC scientist Harry Keys said one of the lakes contained around 5000 cubic metres of debris and water but did not present a danger such as large lahar type mud flow scenario.
GNS Science volcanologist Brad Scott said three active vents were seen in a flyover of the area today.
One vent on the west of the crater showed a new crater formed and significant volcanic material dumped on the area.
A two kilometre debris flow, or volcanic landslide, had crossed several streams, destroying everything in its way.
"It certainly wont be a Ruapehu type lahar scenario, its a lot smaller than that."
Seismology of the area remained unchanged with the volcanic alert level on two, and aviation colour code lowered from orange to yellow.
There had been reports of sulphur smell as far south as Wellington and Palmerston North, he said.
Dr Scott said until further analysis of material was made the eruption appeared to be steam driven, and not magmatic.
"This is a one off event which may decline, or may increase."
FLIGHTS BACK TO NORMAL
Air New Zealand flights affected by the eruption are now operating as usual.
A spokeswoman confirmed there were no more concerns related to flying through the volcanic ash.
There were flight cancellations today because of the grounding of the airline's regional fleet, operated by subsidiary Eagle Air.
LITTLE ACTIVITY ON MOUNTAIN
There has been little activity at Mt Tongariro today, but the earth has been shaking underneath it.
Scientists are still trying to determine the cause and precise location of a new vent in the Te Mari crater cluster on the northeastern flank of the volcano.
The crater spewed rocks and ash when it came to life for the first time in more than 100 years at 11.50pm on Monday night.
There has been no volcanic activity since, but there were a few small earthquakes in the area overnight, GNS vulcanologist Craig Miller said.
The quakes were not believed to be connected to the eruption, Miller said.
GNS scientists were hoping to observe the crater by air this morning, and obtain airborne gas samples. However, heavy rain and low cloud in the area may hamper their efforts.
If no more eruptions occured then they would hope to be able to access the crater by ground within a few days or weeks, Miller said.
Related story: What caused the Tongariro eruption
- © Fairfax NZ News
Do you always wear a helmet while cycling?Related story: Cyclists creative on cycle helmet waivers