HEADLINES

Fact Check: Taal Eruption

By Junelie Anthony Velonta | Feature Writer

Vol. XCI No. 15

Jan. 24, 2020


The sudden explosion of the Taal Volcano last January 12 has sparked nationwide curiosity and concern. News agencies, both local and international, were quick to deliver the news, with some even featuring volcanologists and meteorologists, and equally as reactive was the drive to help the affected residents. However, between the cracks, fake information began to seep in. Concerned citizens, perhaps in goodwill, began to share false information through the internet, without regard to its veracity. While this could have been easily avoided, the internet-connected Filipinos are now dealing with its effects. As such, here are some basic pointers to help verify circulating information.

What we actually know
In the afternoon of January 12, at 2:30 PM, Taal began to spew ash and steam. This was identified as a phreatic eruption and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) elevated the Alert Status to Level 2, corresponding to increasing unrest in the Taal Volcano system. As the day progressed, PHIVOLCS elevated the Alert Status, reaching Alert Level 4, corresponding to an imminent and hazardous eruption.

A phreatic eruption is an explosion characterized by water vaporizing or evaporating almost instantaneously when in contact with magma. While there were no large amounts of lava flowing out of the main crater, magma beneath the Taal Volcano system came in contact with the accumulated water in the main crater lake, vaporizing the “main crater lake” and creating the ash column. 

The ash column reached a height of 10 to 15 km by night of January 12 and began to spread to the surrounding areas, most notably the National Capital Region. Surface winds blowing Northward carried with it the ash column, spreading the ash as far as Northern Luzon and the Batanes islands. By January 14, a majority of the ash cloud has exited the Philippine landmass and has thinned out. 

Despite this, the Taal Volcano system has had continued activity. As of 8 AM of January 20, according to data released by PHIVOLCS, a total of 714 earthquakes have been recorded since January 12, and 176 of which were recorded from 5 AM of January 19 to 6 AM of January 20. Weak and infrequent explosions together with steady emissions containing Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) have been continuously recorded. Alert Level 4 is still in effect, with a 14-kilometer exclusion zone around Taal enforced by local authorities.

PHIVOLCS did not warn Gov’t agencies
While it was true that the news of the Taal eruption was sudden, PHIVOLCS has raised an Alert Level 1, corresponding to low levels of volcanic unrest, since March 28, 2019. The source of this criticism may be the fact that Alert Levels 2 through 4 were only issued by PHIVOLCS on January 12, the day of the phreatic eruption, 2:30 pm onwards. However, it must be noted that the phreatic eruption is not the “main” eruption. A phreatic eruption is only the result of water rapidly vaporizing because of the heat of the magma underneath. Alert Level 4, the current alert status of Taal Volcano, signifies that a bigger and much hazardous eruption is imminent. While it is not known when Taal will erupt, if it will erupt, the current Alert Level issued by PHIVOLCS is warning enough for a much damaging eruption. It must also be noted that the Alert Level 4 could potentially be lowered in the coming days, as with the case with Mayon Volcano having been issued an Alert Level 4 last January 28, 2018, but lowered to an Alert Level 2 by March 29 of the same year.

Taal will trigger “The Big One”
This misinformation may have stemmed from genuine concern. A part of the West Valley Fault running through Manila, after all, is only about 60 kilometers from Taal. While no studies correlate volcanic eruptions to the movement of fault lines, PHIVOLCS, in two separate interviews stated that the recent Taal eruption does not necessarily correlate to the movement of the West Valley Fault. In one interview, PHIVOLCS Chief of Geologic Disaster Awareness and Preparedness Mylene Villegas stated that there is no scientific consensus on the relation of earthquakes to volcanic eruptions. In another interview, PHIVOLCS explained that “The Big One” is resulted from the movements of tectonic plates, located in the Earth’s crust, while a volcanic eruption is the rising of magma from the Earth’s mantle, below the crust. 

Taal is a sign that the other volcanoes will also erupt
Perhaps this false information was started when news reports of Mayon Volcano being issued with Alert Level 2 began spreading through social media. While news reporting such are not false, they are taken in the wrong context. Mayon Volcano has been under Alert Level 2 since March 29, 2018, nearly two years ago. This was after it exhibited signs of an imminent explosion but lowered its activity months after. Mariton Bornas, head of the Volcano Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division of PHIVOLCS, stated in an interview that it was proposed to lower Mayon’s alert level because of the long breadth of time that it has not shown increasing activity. Another case against this claim is the case of Kanlaon Volcano. Kanlaon Volcano has been at Alert Level 0 since October 25, 2019. Even after the Taal eruption, Kanlaon has not shown increased volcanic activity. 

Check before you click
With the fast spread of information through social media, both concerns and news spread very easily. Sometimes, they are merged. The result of such merging, while they may have been done because of genuine goodwill, often muddle the facts and judgments of those that receive it. As such, the practice of moderation and fact-checking must be observed always. Sensationalist content from non-news outlets is often quick to put out wrong or misleading. As such, content seen on the internet must be scrutinized, even before the share button is clicked. Remember:

Think before you click.

 

Photo from newsinfo.inquirer.net

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