Taal Volcano elevated to Alert Level 3 after phreatomagmatic eruption

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 26) — The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) on Saturday raised the status of Taal Volcano to Alert Level 3 following a phreatomagmatic eruption.

“At 0722H PST, Taal Volcano Main Crater generated a short-lived phreatomagmatic burst which was followed by nearly continuous phreatomagmatic activity that generated plumes 1500 m accompanied by volcanic earthquake and infrasound signals,” Phivolcs said in an advisory.

A phreatomagmatic eruption is an explosion that occurs when magma and water interact.

State seismologists said that raising the status to Alert Level 3 means that there is “magmatic intrusion at the Main Crater that may further drive succeeding eruptions.”

For his part, Phivolcs director Renato Solidum said the eruptions this time are not as strong as compared to those recorded in January 2020 due to the lesser amount of sulfur dioxide.

“Kumpara noong January 2020, dahan-dahan umaakyat ang magma....Hindi na masyadong explosive ang eruptions na nakikita natin compared noong January 2020,” Solidum said during a public briefing.

[Translation: As compared to January 2020, the magma is slowly rising. The explosions are not that explosive as compared to the one in January 2020.]

In an afternoon briefing, Solidum explained that the eruption occurred since gas such as sulfur dioxide has been stored within the magma. The more gas it contains, the more explosive it becomes, he pointed out.

He likened it to shaking a soda can — it explodes when opened because there are gas bubbles trapped inside.

"As mentioned, for the worser case activity, we need to monitor deeper magma that would rise and if it ascends rapidly, then doon possibly mag-trigger ng mas malakas na eruption (a stronger eruption) because the gas is somewhat preserved within," said Solidum.

At around noon, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), which was evacuating residents from the area, observed that the volcano has since calmed down.

Phivolcs advised the residents of barangays Bilibinwang, Banyaga, Agoncillo, Boso-boso, Gulod and Bugaan East in Laurel, Batangas to evacuate due to possible hazards as the entire Taal Volcano island is declared a permanent danger zone.

Phivolcs said it could retain the alert level if more phreatomagmatic activity occurs or it could lower it to level 2 if no activity takes place in two weeks.

The alert level could also rise if magma intrusion in the deeper magma is detected, it added.

All activities on Taal Lake are currently not allowed, the agency further warned, but Solidum later said other areas outside the island and the five barangays are safe to visit such as Tagaytay City. He advised those in nearby areas to wear masks, adding that they recommend the N95 variety.

“Communities around the Taal Lake shores are advised to remain vigilant, take precautionary measures against possible airborne ash and vog and calmly prepare for possible evacuation should unrest intensify,” said Phivolcs.

“Civil aviation authorities must advise pilots to avoid flying over Taal Volcano Island as airborne ash and ballistic fragments from sudden explosions and pyroclastic density currents such as base surges may pose hazards to aircraft,” it added.

Meanwhile, the Office of Civil Defense said that fishermen from the lake were already evacuated by the PCG.

“The volcano island naman po is empty of people in view of its protected status.. the fishermen po sa lake were already evacuated by PCG (the fishermen in the lake were already evacuated by the PCG),” said OCD spokesperson Mark Timbal in a message to reporters.