Decade Volcanoes: Taal

Taal doesn’t fit the stereotype we laypeople have of volcanoes being big pointy mountains with a bad case of heartburn.


It does have what appears to be a small volcano sitting in the middle of a vast lake. During the recent eruption in 2020, a few news reports called this Taal Volcano.

But looks are deceiving.

That big lake? It’s actually the crater lake filling most of Taal’s gaping maw. (A series of enormous prehistoric eruptions here have left what’s basically a 9 x 12-mile-wide hole in the island of Luzon. The last of these, according to Reyes, occurred some 5,500 to 7,000 years ago.)

Taal in 2006. This photographer was probably standing on the caldera rim, which is heavily eroded. (Image: The Wandering Angel, CC BY 2.0)

That small volcano? It’s really a complex of stratovolcanoes and hydrovolcanic landforms. Most historical eruptions at Taal have happened on Volcano Island, but its 40-some vents are supplemented by others on the lake floor. (Global Volcanism Program [GVP]; Reyes)

Taal is where both volcanologists and laypeople come to learn more about volcanoes.

  • Our lesson is that, out in the real world, there is no such as a “typical” volcano.
  • Through the Decade Volcano program, experts realized “the remarkable extent in which water is involved in eruptions of Taal Volcano” and now know that this can extend the reach of eruptions here into heavily populated regions. (Newhall)


14.002° N, 120.993° E, in Batangas Province on southwestern Luzon, the Philippines. The GVP Volcano Number is 273070.

Nearby Population:

Per the Global Volcanism Program website:

The public market in Agoncillo, one of the small towns near Taal; there are also two cities: Tanauan and Lipa City. (Image: Ramon F. Velasquez, CC BY-SA 3.0)

  • Within 5 km (3 miles): 717,090
  • Within 10 km (6 miles): 717,090
  • Within 30 km (19 miles): 2,380,326
  • Within 100 km (62 miles): 24,814,047

Those are official numbers. In addition, an estimated 5,000 people lived on Volcano Island in 2016, even though the island was a Permanent Danger Zone and had no services. (Reyes)

In quiet times, this is a scenic, productive area.

Tourism (Manila is only 30 miles away), fishing, farming, forestry, services, cottage industries, and manufacturing made Batangas the 9th most competitive of the Philippines’ 147 provinces in 2016.

However, everyone knows that Taal is the country’s second most active volcano. It has destroyed many local communities down through the centuries and claimed an estimated 6,000 lives. (Reyes; Oregon State; Wikipedia)

Current Status:

As of March 19, 2020, the alert level is 1: low-level unrest, but no eruption imminent.


Per the photographer’s note, the original Lipa City church was destroyed in the 1754 eruption. They then chose this site and built this church in the late 18th/early 19th century. (Image: Shubert Ciencia, CC BY 2.0)

  • Eruption styles: Water driven (“phreatic” or “phreatomagmatic”), gassy (“Strombolian“), or Plinian.
  • Biggest recorded event: In 1754, the main crater on Volcano Island unexpectedly erupted in mid-May and kept at it until early December. Intensity estimates, based on old documents, range from VEI 3 to VEI 5, possibly even higher. Residents of Manila had to use artificial light during the day, while Taal’s eruption column may have been as high as 25 miles at times. Pyroclastic flows and base surges laid down thick deposits and caused huge waves that washed away whatever lakeside towns weren’t already buried underneath ash. This is the “worst-case” event that today’s emergency managers base their plans on. (Reyes)
  • Most recent eruption: January 2020. I blogged about it.

    As of March 11th, some 4,000 evacuees were still in shelters, with another 17,500 staying in other centers. (Global Volcanism Program) Since then, PHIVOLCS has lowered the alert level and, hopefully, many of these people can finally return to their homes.

  • Past history: See the GVP for details. At least four of Taal’s 33 historical eruptions have been violent (VEI 3 TO VEI 5): these occurred in 1749, 1754, 1911, and 1965. (Reyes)


    This is PHIVOLCS’ Taal bulletin page; they’re still issuing reports daily. And here is an archived page on Taal that PHIVOLCS maintained up to February 1st.

    Featured image: Taal on January 13, 2020, by Adisidis via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0


    Global Volcanism Program. 2020. Taal. Last accessed March 19, 2020.

    Newhall, C. 1996. IAVCEI/International Council of Scientific Union’s Decade Volcano projects: Reducing volcanic disaster. status report. US Geological Survey, Washington, DC. Retrieved from

    Oregon Status University: Volcano World. 2020. Taal. Last accessed March 19, 2020.

    Reyes, P. J. D. 2019. An interdisciplinary study of the hazards associated with an AD1754 style eruption of Taal Volcano, Philippines. University of Sydney, doctoral thesis.

    Wikipedia. 2020. Taal Volcano. Last accessed March 19, 2010.

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