Late Pleistocene diatomaceous sediment was widely dispersed along with volcanic ash (tephra) across and beyond New Zealand by the 25.4 ka Oruanui supereruption from Taupo volcano. We present a detailed analysis of the diatom populations in the Oruanui tephra and the newly discovered floras in two other eruptions from the same volcano: the 28.6 ka Okaia and 1.8 ka Taupo eruptions. For comparison, the diatoms were also examined in Late Pleistocene and Holocene lake sediments from the Taupo Volcanic Zone (TVZ). Our study demonstrates how these microfossils provide insights into the lake history of the TVZ since the Last Glacial Maximum. Morphometric analysis of Aulacoseira valve dimensions provides a useful quantitative tool to distinguish environmental and eruptive processes within and between individual tephras. The Oruanui and Okaia diatom species and valve dimensions are highly consistent with a shared volcanic source, paleolake and eruption style (involving large-scale magma-water interaction). They are distinct from lacustrine sediments sourced elsewhere in the TVZ. Correspondence analysis shows that small, intact samples of erupted lake sediment (i.e., lithic clasts in ignimbrite) contain heterogeneous diatom populations, reflecting local variability in species composition of the paleolake and its shallowly-buried sediments. Our analysis also shows a dramatic post-Oruanui supereruption decline in Cyclostephanos novaezelandiae, which likely reflects a combination of (1) reorganisation of the watershed in the aftermath of the eruption, and (2) overall climate warming following the Last Glacial Maximum. This decline is reflected in substantially lower proportions of C. novaezelandiae in the 1.8 ka Taupo eruption deposits, and even fewer in post-1.8 ka sediments from modern (Holocene) Lake Taupo. Our analysis highlights how the excellent preservation of siliceous microfossils in volcanic tephra may fingerprint the volcanic source region and retain a valuable record of volcanically-influenced environmental change.
Additional publication details
Eruptive and environmental processes recorded by diatoms in volcanically-dispersed lake sediments from the Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand