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Taal Volcano: the eruption produced lava fountain with lightning and thunder

by Jack Wright

Just a few days ago, on 12 January, a sudden explosion of Taal Volcano quickly escalated into Alert Level 4. Level 4, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) , warns of imminent hazardous eruption. It is about “earthquake swarms and volcanic tremors, frequent strong ash explosions, sustained increase or sudden drop of the extremely irritating sulfur dioxide emission, increasing rates of ground deformation, increased frequency and volume of rockfall.

At first, it was just
smaller plumes of ash being belched by the volcano which shuddered continuously with earthquakes. But then ashfalls and volcanic thunderstorms followed immediately, leading to forced evacuation of the towns nearest to the volcano. There were warnings of possible volcanic tsunami. The magmatic eruption produced lava fountain with thunder and lightning.

Faced with the uncertain development of the eruption, GUIDEPOST feels a rather special concern not only because any disaster, natural or man-made, is cause for distress but also because people from the Philippines are among the most loyal users of GUIDEPOST, giving rise to an exceptional bond between them and our magazine.

A “complex volcano”, Taal Volcano has an island within a lake, that is on an island within a lake,that is on an island within the sea. One of the world’s smallest volcanoes, it is also one  of the deadliest. See crater right of center of the photo.

Taal Volcano, one of the world’s smallest active volcanoes at only 311m high, is also one of the deadliest. It is the second most active volcano in the Philippines with 34 recorded historical eruptions since 1572. It is a large 15 x 20 km lake-filled “complex volcano” located in the Batangas province some 50 km (31 mi) south of the nation’s capital, Manila. The crater lake on the so-called Volcano Island is the world’s largest lake on an island in a lake on an island. Put differently, Taal has an island within a lake, that is on an island within a lake, that is on an island within the sea.

Like all the other volcanoes in the Philippines, Taal Volcano is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Ironically, Taal Volcano and Lake offers one of the most picturesque sceneries in the Philippines, especially when viewed from the Tagaygay Ridge in Cavite, on the southern shores of the Manila Bay. In fact, tourism in and around Taal has always been a flourishing industry.

Eruption 2020

Taal Volcano phreatic explosion on 12 January 2020

An explosion of Taal Volcano began in the early morning of 12 January 2020. By 2:30 p.m. on that day, PHIVOLCS felt it necessary to issue Alert Level 2 after a stronger explosion was recorded. This was followed by an even stronger explosion by around 3:00 p.m., spewing an ash column measuring 100 meters, and prompting PHIVOLCS to upgrade the alert status to Level 3 by 4:00 p,m. At this point,PHIVOLCS ordered an evacuation of several towns in Batangas and other towns on the shores of Taal Lake. By 7:30 p.m., PHIVOLCS upgraded the alert status to Level 4 after volcanic activities intensified as “continuous eruption generated a tall 10 to 15 kilometres (6.2 to 9.3 mi) of steam-laden column with frequent volcanic lightning that rained wet ashfall” on as far north as the Metro Manila, even affecting Clark International Airport farther up north.

PHIVOLCS reckoned that “a hazardous explosive eruption” was likely to occur “within hours to days.” If this happens, Alert Level 5, the highest alert  level which indicates ongoing eruption of that magnitude, would set in.

On Monday, January 13, PHIVOLCS reported that the volcano emitted a Strombolian type of eruption between 2:48 a.m. to 4:28 a.m. A lava fountain was recorded at 3:20 a.m. The air quality index of cities in Metro Manila had worsened.

By 14 January, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council of the Philippines (NDRRMC) had reported a total of 286 volcano tectonic earthquakes in the Taal area. Previously, on 13 January, the provincial board of Batangas declared the province under a state of calamity, ordering the evacuation of residents within a radius of 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) from the volcano. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs reported that an estimated 459,300 people are within the 14-kilometer danger zone.

A total of 6,891 families or 30,423 individuals took shelter in 118 evacuation centers.

More than 500 international and domestic flights were canceled or delayed due to the overnight airport closure, affecting about 80,000 passengers.

Restive Taal’s last disastrous eruption, in 1965, killed hundreds of people. Seemingly not wanting to be outdone, the long-dormant volcano, Mount Pinatubo, north of Manila, blew its top in 1991 in one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing as many  people.

Latest development
16 January 2020

According to PHIVOLCS, “activity in the past 24 hours has generally waned to weak emission of steam-laden plumes.”

People have begun to take risks in order to see for themselves the disaster brought on by the eruption on thier homes and livelihoods, prompting the security forces to tighten the security cordon.


Featured image/ThebestThegames 678, CC  BY-SA4.0
Complex volcano/Arius 1998, CC BY-SA4.0
Taal Volcano phreatic explosion, 12 January 2020/ Exec8, CC  BY-SA4.0