Ambae Island is a mafic stratovolcano located in the northern Vanuatu volcanic arc and has a NE–SW rift-controlled elongated shape. Several hundred scoria cones and fissure-fed lava fields occur along its long axis. After many decades of quiescence, Ambae Island erupted on the 28th of November 2005, disrupting the lives of its 10,000 inhabitants. Its activity remained focused at the central (crater-lake filled) vent and this is where hazard-assessments were focused. These assessments initially neglected that maars, tephra cones and rings occur at each tip of the island where the eruptive activity occurred b500 and b300 yr B.P. The products of this explosive phreatomagmatic activity are located where the rift axis meets the sea. At the NE edge of the island five tephra rings occur, each comparable in size to those on the summit of Ambae. Along the NE coastline, a near-continuous cliff section exposes an up to 25 m thick succession of near-vent phreatomagmatic tephra units derived from closely spaced vents. This can be subdivided into two major lithofacies associations. The first association represents when the locus of explosions was below sea level and comprises matrix-supported, massive to weakly stratified beds of coarse ash and lapilli. These are dominant in the lowermost part of the sequence and commonly contain coral fragments, indicating that the loci of explosion were located within a reef or coral sediment near the syn-eruptive shoreline. The second type indicate more stable vent conditions and rapidly repeating explosions of high intensity, producing fine-grained tephra with undulatory bedding and cross-lamination as well as megaripple bedforms. These surge and fall beds are more common in the uppermost part of the succession and form a few-m-thick pile. An older tephra succession of similar character occurs below, and buried trees in growth position, as well as those flattened within base surge beds. This implies that the centre of this eruption was very near the coastline. The processes implied by these deposits are amongst the most violent forms of volcanism on this island. In addition, the lowland and coastal areas affected by these events are the most heavily populated. This circumstance is mirrored on many similar volcanic islands, including the nearby SW Pacific examples of Taveuni (Fiji), Upolu and Savai'i (Samoa), and Ambrym (Vanuatu). These locations are paradoxically often considered safe areas during summit/central-vent eruptions, simply because they are farthest from the
34 central sources of ash-fall and lahar hazard. The observations presented here necessitate a revision of this view.