Geyser's revival of international significance
Saturday, 12 October 2013 1:00 p.m.
Revival of Papakura Geyser in Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa geothermal valley may be a world first, Bay of Plenty Regional Council Chief Executive Mary-Anne Macleod says.
The Regional Council manages the Rotorua Geothermal Field through the Rotorua Geothermal Plan, which constrains use of the resource to protect geothermal features.
“These geothermal features have great local, national and international significance and we acknowledge and recognise the geothermal field as a taonga for tangata whenua,” Ms Macleod says. “The revival of Papakura is great news not only for Rotorua, but for all those who have been involved over the years in monitoring and protecting these precious assets.”
Bay of Plenty Regional Council Senior Planner Bridget Robson says the Rotorua Geothermal Plan has tightly managed the resource and it appears this action has something to do with the geyser’s recovery.
“This could be the first time in the world a management response to a geothermal decline has had this type of result. Usually when geysers have stopped erupting they have tended to stay that way. What’s happening here suggests there is a big lag period between changing use patterns and the geothermal system responding. This will be of interest internationally,” Ms Robson says.
Papakura was one of Whakarewarewa’s most consistently active geysers and has been dormant since March 1979 but is now “bubbling away” with temperatures reaching boiling point and a series of small eruptions spraying steam and water up to a metre high.
“She is showing signs of being a geyser again – this is very exciting.”
The Rotorua Geothermal Plan came into effect in 1999, maintaining a 1.5km exclusion zone around Pohutu Geyser at Whakarewarewa, a zone established in 1986 to halt the progressive decline in surface geothermal activity. It saw the closure of hundreds of bores in the city.
Following the closures there were signs of recovery of geysers, springs and other geothermal features. Groundwater levels bounced back fairly quickly, Kuirau Park came back to life, Pohutu Geyser became more active again – but the recovery of other surface features was slower and Papakura, among other features, remained dormant.
Regional Council became responsible for managing the geothermal field in 1991 and developed the Rotorua Geothermal Plan to protect the field and bring about recovery. It sets out policies and rules for the use of geothermal energy, puts a cap on the amount of geothermal fluid and heat that can be used, promotes low-effect use and includes ongoing monitoring.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council will continue to work with the community, local council, tangata whenua and the business sector to meet needs, advance opportunities and preserve and enhance geothermal resources.
Papakura showed no signs of recovery until recently when routine monthly monitoring by scientists from GNS, which carries out this work for the regional council, showed increased levels of chloride geothermal fluid, indicating increased fluid flows from deep underground.
Ms Robson says the regional council will continue to work with GNS to better understand the Rotorua geothermal system and the impact of use of the resource.
The Rotorua geothermal field’s surface features and unique ecosystems make it of high scientific and conservation value internationally.
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