Both main islands of Samoa Savai’i and Upolu need to be considered as potentially volcanic active. The most recent eruptions in historic times happened on Savai’i in 1905-1911, 1902 and 1760 (estimated). Though detailed volcanic studies and dating of volcanic events are very limited there is evidence for repeated volcanic activity on both islands since the time of human occupation of the islands, as marked by prominent and fresh appearing tuff cones as Tafua (= fire mountain) Savai’i, the island of Apolima, Tafua Upolu and offshore Cape Tepaga.
This report examines the volcanic risks for both islands and defines for disaster management considerations potential eruption scenarios based on eyewitness accounts of previous eruptions, geological field evidence, remote sensing information and experiences from similar volcanoes (Table 1). A detailed timeline of events, potential impacts and required emergency response activities are listed for the five potential eruption types (1) long-term lava field (2) short term spatter-cone (3) explosive phreatomagmatic (4) explosive scoria-cone and (5) submarine flank collapse (Tables 2-5).
Given the nature of volcanism in Samoa with hundreds of individual “one-off” volcanoes scattered along zones of structural weakness within the Savai’i – Upolu platform predicting the exact location of future eruption centres is impossible. At the current stage of knowledge a presentation of a volcanic hazard map is inadequate and would require much more baseline studies to statistically define recurrence intervals and areas of higher volcanic activity. Taking these limitations into account maps showing the relative potential for new eruption vents on Upolu and Savai’i are derived from geomorphologic features (Annex 1 & 2).
To improve our understanding and management of the volcanic risks of Samoa suggestions for achievable future work are listed and prioritised in Table 6. These recommendations include geological/vulcanological baseline studies (e.g. dating/ detailed analyses of past events, rock chemistry, volcano structure), installation of early warning and monitoring network (e.g. permanent GPS, seismometers) and disaster preparedness and volcanic crisis response planning.