Tireless Taal still spews smoke, over 400 quakes recorded

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 25) – The main crater of restless Taal Volcano spewed plumes of white smoke, government volcanologists said Saturday.

Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said in its latest bulletin at 8 a.m. on Saturday that the steam-laden emissions reached areas southwest of the volcano.

State volcanologists also said the Taal Volcano Network, which could detect small earthquakes, recorded 420 volcanic earthquakes ranging from magnitudes 1 to 4, including 11 low-frequency tremors, within their 24-hour monitoring period. Of the total quakes, 176 were at magnitudes 1.2 to 4.1.

There were six volcanic earthquakes with magnitudes 1.5 to 2.3 that were not felt, the scientists added. Phivolcs earlier said tremors beneath Taal Volcano Island mean there is boiling water inside the volcano.

Phivolcs Volcano Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division chief Mariton Bornas said seven strong tremors were recorded, ranging from magnitude 1.2 to 2.7.

“This volcanic activity likely signifies magmatic intrusion beneath the Taal edifice that may lead to eruptive activity,” Phivolcs said.

Phivolcs also recorded a higher amount of sulfur dioxide emissions at around 409 metric tons per day from 224 tons per day over the past 24 hours.

Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum explained that the emitted sulfur dioxide can possibly spread to nearby areas such as the 14-kilometer danger zone but it will depend on the height of the steam plume and direction of the prevailing winds.

"[If] it's up there, then it won't really be affecting people," Solidum explained to CNN Philippines in a phone interview.

From live footage of Taal, it can be seen that steam is rising from another side of the volcano apart from the main crater. Solidum explained that steam is also coming from the vents from the fissures around the crater. He said some explosions can also occur in these vents.

However, with this available data, Solidum maintained they can still not predict when the anticipated explosive eruption of Taal will take place. Solidum said they are monitoring two types of magma: magma that is near the surface which was left over by the previous eruption and magma five kilometers deep in the volcano which can cause a big eruption. He said the explosive eruption can happen if there is movement of the deep magma.

"If that magma reaches the surface then eruptions can restart or it can happen again but if... it will just stay in that level then we don't see yet a resurgence," he said. "If the magma doesn't move then we don't have any activity for now."

"However, at the upper part of the volcano, the pit of the magma, will generate steam from boiling of the groundwater and that steam might either be emitted slowly or explosively so that can be a steam-generated explosion," Solidum added.

On Friday, Taal emitted thick ashfall, but Phivolcs Volcano Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division Chief Mariton Bornas said it is not that significant

"Hindi siya ganoon kalaki, pero may kaunting pagsipa sa bilang at lakas ng mga lindol sa nakaraang 24 oras," she said in a media briefing.

Alert Level 4 remains hoisted over Taal, meaning a hazardous eruption is possible within hours or days.

Military and police officers on Thursday started enforcing a total lockdown of all 199 barangays in 15 municipalities and cities in Batangas and Cavite, which have been identified as vulnerable to base surges and volcanic tsunami as a result of Taal's eruption. Everyone inside the 14-kilometer radius danger zone is being evacuated.