Taal Volcano Awakes

Update, March 19, 2020: PHIVOLCS reports it has lowered the alert level back down to 1 again.

Update, February 15, 2020, 11:44 a.m., Pacific: Yesterday, PHIVOLCS lowered the status a notch:

This serves as a notice for the lowering of Taal Volcano’s status from Alert Level 3 (decreased tendency towards hazardous eruption) to Alert Level 2 (decreased unrest).

After step-down to Alert Level 3 last 26 January 2020, Taal Volcano’s condition in the succeeding three weeks has been characterized by less frequent volcanic earthquake activity, stabilizing ground deformation of the Taal Caldera and Taal Volcano Island (TVI) edifices and weak steam/gas emissions at the Main Crater. These observations are supported by the following monitoring parameters:

1. Since 26 January, volcanic earthquakes recorded by the Taal Volcano Network (TVN) averaged 141 events/day while the number of significant events recorded by the Philippine Seismic Network across the Taal region declined to 127 events of magnitudes M1.4 to M4.3. The number and energy of tremor and low-frequency events associated with activity in the shallow magma and hydrothermal region beneath the TVI edifice have also diminished. These parameters are consistent with degassing ponded magma rather than active magma transport to and from the shallow magma reservoir beneath TVI.

2. Continuous Global Positioning System (GPS) data from 13 January to 11 February recorded a net subsidence of the Taal Caldera and TVI, following uplift on the northwestern caldera and subsidence of TVI on 12-13 January. Subsidence along thePansipit River Valley, where extensive fissuring occurred, was also recorded by campaign GPS monitoring between 24 and 27 January. The overall ground deformation behavior of Taal Volcano for the above periods indicates post-eruptive subsidence and relaxation of the edifice after the cessation of magma transport, signaled by hybrid earthquake activity, on 18 January.

3. Sulfur dioxide or SO2 flux based on campaign Flyspec data averaged 62 tonnes/day since 26 January, consistent with a weakly degassing shallow magma source, diminished plume activity or absorption of volcanic gas by a recovering lake at the Main Crater and by TVI’s recovering hydrothermal system.

4. Activity in the Main Crater has been characterized by the generation of weak steam-laden plumes, consistent with decreased magmatic unrest.

In view of the above observations, DOST-PHIVOLCS is lowering the alert status of TaalVolcano from Alert Level 3 to Alert Level 2 to reflect the overall decreasing trend in the level of monitoring parameters. Alert Level 2 means that there is decreased unrest but should not be interpreted that unrest has ceased or that the threat of an eruption has disappeared. Should an uptrend or pronounced change in monitored parameters forewarn a potential eruption, the Alert Level may be raised back to Alert Level 3. At such time, people residing within areas at high risk to base surges who have returned after the step-down to Alert Level 2 must therefore be prepared for a quick and organized evacuation. Conversely, should there be a persistent downtrend in monitored parameters after a sufficient observation period, the Alert Level will be further lowered to Alert Level 1.

Yay! But it’s still elevated, though they foresee lowering it back to Level 1, where Taal was before its big blast on January 12th, if it stays quiet. It’s amazing that that huge lake could have lowered so much, with so much magma near the surface, and didn’t lead to a big “pressure-cooker” style eruption.

I’ll leave this sticky post at the top for another day or two and then let it go back down to the regular order of posts.

Update, February 3, 2020, 8:54 a.m., Pacific: No changes in alert status or evacuation orders, and the general surface activity reported is the same. However, per recent reports, PHIVOLCS has detected some tremor and in the last day there were volcanic quakes strong enough to feel in nearby communities. My two main sources of information are the PHIVOLCS bulletin site and the PhilStar.com live blog.

Update, January 29, 2020, 10:02 a.m., Pacific: Taal remains quiet, other than steaming and degassing a bit, but they are still keeping residents out of the most risky zones. I will therefore keep this stuck at the top of the page and wait to see what happens next.

Update, January 25, 2020, 6:41 p.m., Pacific: Some good news — PHIVOLCS has lowered the alert status a notch, per their January 26th bulletin at 8 a.m., local time. Seismicity is less frequent; ground deformation has slowed down; and degassing isn’t as intense (also the sulfur volatiles are much less).

That said, they DO say (their emphasis):

Alert Level 3 to reflect the overall decrease in the level of monitoring parameters. Alert Level 3 means that there is a decreased tendency towards hazardous explosive eruption but should not be interpreted that unrest has ceased or that the threat of a hazardous eruption has disappeared. Should an uptrend or pronounced change in monitored parameters forewarn a potential hazardous explosive eruption, the Alert Level may be raised back to Alert Level 4. People residing within areas at high risk to base surges who have returned after the Alert Level was stepped down must thus be prepared for a quick and organized evacuation at such time. Conversely, should there be a persistent downtrend in monitored parameters after a sufficient observation period, the Alert Level will be further lowered to Alert Level 2.

DOST-PHIVOLCS reminds the public that at Alert Level 3, sudden steam-driven and even weak phreatomagmatic explosions, volcanic earthquakes, ashfall and lethal volcanic gas expulsions can occur and threaten areas within TVI and nearby lakeshores. DOST-PHIVOLCS recommends that entry into TVI, Taal’s Permanent Danger Zone, as well as into areas over Taal Lake and communities west of TVI within a seven (7) kilometer-radius from the Main Crater must be strictly prohibited.

TVI is Taal Volcano Island, where the vent for the January 12th eruption is located.

PHIVOLCS also included some amazing stats about how this volcano has deformed:

  • “[S]udden widening of Taal Caldera by ~1 meter [a little over 3 feet]”
  • The northwestern part of the island rose by about 8 inches, while its southwestern sector dropped a little over 3 feet. After that, deformation slowed down.
  • As of yesterday, Taal Lake has dropped by about a foot all around and roughly 8 feet along the southwestern shore — per PHIVOLCS, “denoting uplift of portions of the Pansipit River Valley where fissuring has been reported.” This is the section of land that sits between Taal Caldera’s wall and the sea.

Volcanoes are dynamic places. This isn’t over yet, but it’s good to know that some people are going to be able to resume their lives, even though they’re taking a big risk and must always keep an eye on the volcano.

Update, January 26, 2019, 7:37 p.m. Pacific:


The joy expressed here is amazing. It’s not easy living near an active volcano. I hope they don’t have to flee in terror again. But Taal is still at Level 3. . .

Update, January 23, 2020, 7:55 p.m., Pacific: Per PhilStar, PHIVOLCS hasn’t yet issued its regular morning bulletin. Huh. I found no afternoon update for the 23rd, either.

Also, here is an image they ran with their update from January 24th, 8:07 a.m., local time — it really shows how much the level of Taal Lake has dropped compared to the level shown on the image at the top of this post.


Update, January 23, 2020, 1;12 p.m., Pacific: Not much change, per the morning update, but check out this new look for the main crater on Volcano Island!


For comparison, here’s what a tourist photographed of the same area (though not the same exact viewpoint) in 2015 (yes, the lake was green):

eric, CC BY 2.0

Now here’s a thought exercise, to give you some idea of what volcanologists and emergency planners must consider every day: that now-dry crater lake bed is the site of the January 12th blast, and you remember how big that was. Magma is still moving into the volcano, which underlies the lake that surrounds this Volcano Island, enough to make the island itself tilt and bulge. The next blast might be from a larger source . . . or maybe the January 12th vent . . . or maybe Taal will just settle down in its new configuration for a few years or decades or centuries.

This is all happening underground and no one can get enough information to confidently predict Taal’s next move. But they do have enough information — and constantly share it with the world — to enable good decision making.

My nerves just wouldn’t be able to handle such a job, but the experts are doing excellent work. And they are the ones to always turn to, not rumor or news articles (especially the sensational ones) or, to be honest, blog posts. ;^D

January 22, 2020, 8:55 a.m., Pacific: Remobilized ash is a problem today:


However, the sulfur emissions reported in the daily updates have consistently been much lower than in the days right after the eruption. This might mean that magma is not as close to the surface as it was — that, hopefully, a new cap of some sort is there, or perhaps the old cap rock has come back together again after it ruptured.

Hope so! I think.

There were no ash emissions reported today, either.

Still, the seismic network near Taal is still recording close to 500 earthquakes per day.

It’s difficult to believe that all that water down there won’t interact with the magma for a huge explosion, but never underestimate the capacity of the Earth — for water or for surprises.

PHIVOLCS still has the volcano at Level 4 (out of 5, the highest). And no wonder. Per this news report:

They’re talking about this island. Taal Volcano underlies the whole lake, plus a little bit of the land beyond its shore. (Image: Dondy Razon, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Taal Volcano is swelling, a portion has sunk and the entire volcano island has tilted slightly, indicating a “resupply” of magma or molten rock rising to the surface that presages a powerful eruption amid the ongoing lull.

This was according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, whose official said Taal appeared to be “recharging.” . . .

. . .

Solidum also said the silent activity beneath Taal has significantly altered the landscape of the volcano island.

He said some parts of the northeastern portion of the volcano have sunk while the entire volcano has swelled.

“The island has slightly tilted while being pushed. Some portions in the northeastern side are sinking. Maybe the houses there are already under water,” Solidum said.

It’s never a good idea to seal a pressure cooker while the heat underneath it is on — you turn that heat off first.

So, Taal may be quieter, but that’s not necessarily good news.

January 19, 2019 2020, 1:28 p.m., Pacific: Per this news report:

While Taal Volcano appears calm on the surface, activity underneath remains “intense” – and with no sign of weakening since the volcano’s steam explosion seven days ago, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) reported yesterday.

Phivolcs director Renato Solidum Jr. said at a press briefing that although sulfur dioxide emission has weakened, the high number of quakes recorded in Taal could indicate continued subsurface volcanic activities, including the rising of magma.

Alert Level 4 remains up, Phivolcs said.

“Based on our monitoring, the volcanic activities remain intense, the magma continues to rise which may lead to a hazardous explosion,” he said.

“What we see on the surface is different from the situation underneath,” Solidum said. . .

At least there has been no further mention in bulletins of Taal Lake waters receding.

And PETA was able to sail (illegally) to Volcano Island, where all animals had been supposed dead.

The PhilStar’s live update has a January 20th section with images of other animals that were rescued yesterday.

Update, January 18, 2020, 12:56 p.m., Pacific: Here’s a map of the current fissures — at least they haven’t gone through the major transportation corridor east of the volcano!

PHVOLCS Quick Response Team via PhilStar

None of those appear to be steaming, which is nice. A steaming fissure was observed on the central volcanic island, though, per PHIVOLCS yesterday.

Taal’s reported eruptive activity is still low key, per the evening regular update (local time) on January 18th.

Update, January 16, 2020, 9:02 p.m., Pacific: I’m going to pin this to the top of the blog, as the situation is concerning: the lava fountaining isn’t mentioned in PHIVOLCS reports lately, but a number of fissures in the ground have appeared; the lake inside the “little” volcano on the central island has drained; and a river in the area has gone dry.

And then there’s this from the most recent bulletin (emphasis added):

Activity in the Main Crater in the past 24 hours has been characterized by steady steam emission and infrequent weak explosions that generated dark gray ash plumes 100 to 800 meters tall and dispersed ash southwest to west of the Main Crater.

Existing fissures identified in barangays of Lemery, Agoncillo, Talisay, and San Nicolas in Batangas Province have been observed to widen by a few centimeters. A steaming fissure has been newly observed on the northern slopes of Taal Volcano Island. Receding of the shoreline has been observed around the whole of Taal Lake.

The Philippine Seismic Network plotted a total of six hundred thirty-four (634) volcanic earthquakes since 1:00 PM, January 12, 2020. One hundred seventy-four (174) of these registered at magnitudes M1.2 – M4.1 and were felt at Intensities I – V. Since 5:00 AM on January 16, 2020 until 5:00 AM today, there were sixty-five (65) volcanic earthquakes plotted, two (2) of these registered at magnitudes M1.3 -M3.1 and were both felt at Intensity I. The Taal Volcano Network recorded nine hundred forty-four (944) volcanic earthquakes including twenty-nine (29) low-frequency earthquakes. Such intense seismic activity likely signifies continuous magmatic intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity.

This. This seems to be draining. I’m gobsmacked.

Video is from a few years ago,

From some reading I did, there apparently is a hydrothermal reservoir underneath the volcano, so perhaps there is room down there for all this vanishing water. But at the same time, magma is moving in.

May the two remain separated physically and thermally!

Update, January 14, 2020, 9:21 p.m., Pacific: According to the PhilStar (a good link for up-to-date news of the eruption and the human responses to it), Taal is just chugging along.

Lava fountains did begin a few hours after the main blast, so magma has reached the surface, and according to the latest PHIVOLCS bulletin, magma seems to be moving into the edifice. A lot of fissures are opening up in the area, too:

New fissures or cracks were observed in Sinisian, Mahabang Dahilig, Dayapan, Palanas, Sangalang, Poblacion, Lemery; Pansipit, Agoncillo; Poblacion 1, Poblacion 2, Poblacion 3, Poblacion 5, Talisay and Poblacion, San Nicolas. A fissure was also documented across the road connecting Agoncillo to Laurel, Batangas.

The Philippine Seismic Network recorded a total of forty-nine (49) volcanic earthquakes in the Taal region from 2:00 AM to 10:00 AM today. Seven (7) of these earthquakes were felt with intensities ranging from Intensity II to IV in Tagaytay City. The intense seismic activity coupled with fissuring on the caldera region likely signifies continuous magma intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity.

The reported fountain height has increased from earlier bulletins.

Today’s PHIVOLCS update notes that they’re calling this continuous magmatic and hydrovolcanic activity. Yesterday, on reading up on Taal and other Decade volcanoes for a Listverse submission (yep, doing that again, too), I came across a 2013 paper abstract that suggested there was a water reservoir underneath Taal — my impression of it is sort of an underground hydrothermal field. It was capped, they reported, but that cap was thinnest underneath the volcano and, as I understand it, if that thin cap failed explosively, it could lead to an even bigger eruption.

So, this is definitely a dangerous situation for the Philippines right now. And yet, human nature being what it is — especially among those who have lived among volcanoes all their lives — the Coast Guard must patrol near Taal Lake to keep fishermen from returning to work there!

Update, January 12, 2019 2020, 5:52 p.m., Pacific: From CNN Phillipines website (note the link at top of article to a press conference, too!):

. . . Early Monday morning, the Taal crater spewed a lava fountain, which is the expected activity of the volcano, Solidum said. He said this does not mean there is an increased activity that should cause panic. He said this only means that lava has reached the surface of the volcano.

“We haven’t seen yet the hazards of the 1965, 1911, and 1754 eruption manifested in Taal Volcano. [If it is a hazardous eruption], we will see flows of ashes, rocks, gas at speeds of more than 60 kph horizontally and that can move across the lake,” he said.

Phivolcs said the steam-driven eruption progressed into a magmatic eruption at 02:49 AM to 04:28 AM on Monday. This is characterized by the “weak” lava fountaining. . .

As I understand it, the “big one” that got everybody’s attention was due to magma/water interactions. There is rising magma — actually, it seems to have reached the surface, per above report — and the question is what happens next. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict the size of an eruption before it happens.

Original post:

A two-fer on this Sunday Morning Volcano day; however, that’s not good news for the 21 million people of Manila, in the Phillipines, who live close to Taal Volcano.

Per Dr. Eric Klemetti today:

Few volcanoes on Earth pose as much of a potential threat to human life than Taal in the Philippines. The caldera volcano that last erupted in 1977 has over 24 million people living within ~60 miles (100 km). It has the potential for large explosive eruptions that could spread ash across much of the Philippines, including Manila.

On January 12, Taal woke up from its over 40 year slumber, producing an explosive eruption from its central vent inside Lake Taal. The continuing explosions from has been sending steam ash up over 32,000-49,000 feet (10-15 km) over the volcano. Ash fell on many towns near Taal and the international airport at Manila closed in response to the ash in the air. . .

Do check out the whole article here — it has images as well as a lot of very interesting information.

Also, I haven’t verified this but think it’s the real deal:


Featured Image: Taal lake and volcano in 2016, by Ray In Manila, CC BY 2.0


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