By Alexandria San Juan and Ben Rosario
After days of weaker activity, Taal Volcano spewed thicker steam-laden plumes on Friday morning, an indication volcanic materials underneath are heating up, the Philippine Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said.
The steam observed in the main crater of Taal early Friday was caused by hydrothermal activity wherein a rising magma underground was being heated by the groundwater, resulting in steam, Phivolcs Volcano Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division chief Mariton Bornas said.
“In the past days, we observed that the steam in Taal Volcano slightly subsided, maybe because the vents were blocked, or the rising magma runs out of sulfur dioxide,” Bornas said.
“Now that the steaming is more robust, the blockage might have been removed or the hardened surface of the magma has opened up so the sulfur dioxide and the steam have been released,” she explained.
The level of sulfur dioxide, a major gas component of magma or molten rocks, though still low, slightly increased on Friday after continuously decreasing for three days.
It was measured at 224 tons per day on Friday, from the 114 tons per day recorded on Thursday. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions have been fluctuating since it was first recorded on January 13, reaching as high as over 5,000 tons per day.
Magma near surface
According to the United States Geological Survey, SO2 indicates that magma is near the surface and could be a sign that the volcano will erupt soon.
Bornas also explained that the darker color of the plume belched by Taal on Friday is normal, noting that it was just the mixing of old ash deposits from the volcano in the steam.
However, Bornas said that the thicker ash cloud observed in the main crater alone cannot indicate whether the volcano will erupt soon as there are still other parameters that should be monitored such as the continuous volcanic quakes and ground deformation.
In the latest Phivolcs bulletin, it said that the Philippine Seismic Network (PSN) plotted a total of 738 volcanic quakes since afternoon of January 12 during Taal’s phreatic or steam-driven eruption, 176 of these were registered at magnitudes 1.2 to 4.1 and were felt at Intensities I to V.
From Thursday morning to Friday morning, the PSN recorded at least seven volcanic tremors that registered at magnitudes 1.2 to 2.7 with no felt event, while the Taal Volcano Network, which can detect small quakes, recorded 486 tremblors, including four low-frequency earthquakes.
While Taal’s future activity is unpredictable, the threat of a dangerous explosive eruption remains possible within hours or days as Alert Level 4 is still up.
The Phivolcs official also pointed out that there was still a “significant probability” of a huge eruption similar to the 1754 or 1911 scenario which she tagged as “worst case.”
The eruptions of Taal Volcano during those years are considered the most violent and devastating, with thousands of people in the volcano island and lakeshore communities killed due to volcanic hazards such as base surge and volcanic tsunami.
P3-B modernization fund
With the unpredictability of volcanic activities, Deputy Speaker and 1PACMAN Party-list Rep. Michael L Romero has sought a P3-billiion fund to finance the Phivolcs Modernizaiton Act of 2019 and equip the state volcanology agency with the latest and most accurate state-of-the-art instruments and equipment.
Romero filed House bill 5763 calling for a two-year implementation of the modernization program which is expected to vastly improve Phivolcs’ capabilities for warning, assessing, and monitoring devastating volcanic eruptions, earthquake, and tsunami activity.
In filing the bill, Romero said the amount being proposed is insignificant compared to the hundreds of lives and billions of properties that may be saved due to more accurate readings and better assessment of the dangers triggered by deadly volcanic and seismic activities.
“Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have killed thousands of Filipinos and robbed them of their future and fortune. It’s time to fight back and arm ourselves with state-of-the-art life-saving instruments and equipment available here and abroad,” said Romero.
HB 5763 or the Phivolcs Modernization Act of 2019 underscores the responsibility of the state to provide “timely and quality information and services for warning, disaster preparedness and mitigation” caused by earthquake and volcanic hazards.
“HB 5763 also seeks to ensure that the country fulfills its commitments to international volcanology and seismology agreements,” said Romero, president of the Partylist Coalition Foundation, Inc., which is the second largest bloc of lawmakers in the Lower House.
Romero appealed to the House leadership to include HB 5763 in the list of priority measures related to the devastating Taal volcanic activity.
Under the bill, the Phivolcs Modernization Program will be implemented for an initial period of two years. However, it also guarantees extended period of implementation to pay for multi-year contract obligations incurred as a result of its implementation.
The P3-billion fund for the two-year implementation of the program will be sourced from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), which is directed to release P1.5 billion of the amount to Phivolcs for each year of implementation.
HB 5763 also grants the secretary of the Department of Science and Technology the authority to arrange for loans, grants, bequests, and donations from local and foreign sources in order raise the needed amount.
Total evacuation reiterated
With Taal’s history of volcanic actitity, Phivolcs strongly reiterates total evacuation of Taal Volcano Island and high-risk areas identified in the hazard maps within the 14-kilometer radius from the Main Crater and along the Pansipit River Valley where fissuring has been observed.
Residents around the volcano were also advised to guard against the effects of heavy and prolonged ashfall.
Taal’s steam-driven eruption last January 12 has already affected 88,842 families or 346,244 individuals, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) Executive Director Ricardo Jalad said.
At least 37,311 families or 137,538 individuals were temporarily sheltered in 488 evacuation centers in Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Quezon and National Capital Region (NCR). Some 37,230 families or 144,907 individuals opted to go with their relatives or friends, Jalad added.
3 more evacuees die
Meanwhile, three more evacuees were recorded as authorities continue to clear the 14-kilometer danger zone due to the continuing threat of the Taal Volcano.
Based on the data from the Batangas Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO), the three fatalities are 80-year-old evacuee from San Nicolas, 54-year-old evacuee from Taal town, and an 86-year-old evacuee also from Taal.
The PDRRMO stated that all the three fatalities died on January 20 due to various medical conditions.
The death of the three brought to seven the number of fatalities that succumbed due to various medical conditions since Taal Volcano erupted. (With reports from Martin A. Sadongdong and Aaron B. Recuenco)
READ MORE: Three more Taal eruption evacuees die