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A Volcano Within a Volcano: Portrait of the Taal Volcano

Science has always fascinated me. This includes not only the ecological sciences, which I studied in school, but other endeavors, as well.

Mt. Taal volcano came to life agin in January 2020, proving that it one of the most active volcanoes in the world

Mt. Taal volcano came to life agin in January 2020, proving that it one of the most active volcanoes in the world

The News Story

After remaining relatively quiet for several decades, Mt. Taal in the Phililppines has come back to life (January 2020), causing massive evacuations and huge travel delays because of airborne ash. Beginning in January, huge ash clouds began pouring out of the mountain top with some of the ash even causing major problems at the Manila airport.

Along with the ash clouds, there has been magma shooting out of the cone, numerous earthquakes and abundant lightning above the volcano summit. All of this has created major concern that another major eruption is likely to occur in the near future.

Manila Today

Intramuros golfclub with city skyline in background. About 2 million live in Manila today.

Intramuros golfclub with city skyline in background. About 2 million live in Manila today.

Locating Taal

The exact location of the Taal Volcano might need a bit of clarification. First of all, it is situated on Luzon, the northernmost island of the Philippines. Luzon is about 420 miles long and 140 miles wide. Lake Taal, which covers 90 square miles, can be found about 30 miles south of Manila on the Batanga Peninsula. Lake Taal is an ancient caldera, created by a supervolcano, a long time ago.

In the center of Lake Taal is Volcano Island. It is a small island (9 sq. mi.) that contains a very active volcano called Taal. Although small in size, Taal (or sometimes Mt. Taal) is one of the most geologically active places on the planet.

P.S. In the Tagalog language, the word, Taal, means native, natural or original.

Artist depiction of Mount Mazama of Crater Lake erupting around 6,000 years ago. The biggest eruption, here occurred 10,000 years ago and has been rated as a level 7 eruption, just shy of being considered a supervolcano.

Artist depiction of Mount Mazama of Crater Lake erupting around 6,000 years ago. The biggest eruption, here occurred 10,000 years ago and has been rated as a level 7 eruption, just shy of being considered a supervolcano.

Supervolcanoes

Contrary to popular belief, supervolcano is an actual scientific term, referring to the largest sized volcanoes on our planet. Over the years, geologists have developed a straightforward method for calibrating volcanic eruptions, both past and present. To do this they simply calculate the volume of erupted material that has been ejected from the mouth of the volcano. The measurement is done in cubic kilometers or km3.

Next, the data is quantified into a scale ranging from 1 to 8. This scale is called the VEI or Volcano Explosivity Index. Volcanoes, which emit at least 1,000 km3 of volcanic material (called tephra by scientists) are classified as supervolcanoes. The first eruption at Taal occurred some 500,000 years ago. Today, this event is categorized as a supervolcano.

Aerial View of Lake Taal in the Philippines

This aerial photo clearly depicts the water-filled caldera from an ancient  supervolcano eruption. Today, the body of water is known as Lake Taal.

This aerial photo clearly depicts the water-filled caldera from an ancient supervolcano eruption. Today, the body of water is known as Lake Taal.

The Caldera

After a volcano completes its eruption cycle, it often leaves a giant crater at the top of the mountain. Over time, the floor of the giant valley may collapse, creating an even larger bowl shaped depression. The scientific word for this geologic landform is caldera. Throughout the world, most calderas remain dry, but there are a few, like the one at Taal that will fill up with water to form a large lake. Other famous volcanic lakes, created in this manner, would include Lake Taupo in New Zealand, Lake Tobo in Indonesia and Crater Lake in the United States. Among all these volcanic lakes, Taal is the most active, today.

Taal Volcano Before 1911

Photo of Taal volcano befor the 1911 eruption destroyed much of the summit. Please note this is the summit at Volcano Island. The island stills stands today

Photo of Taal volcano befor the 1911 eruption destroyed much of the summit. Please note this is the summit at Volcano Island. The island stills stands today

History of the Taal Volcano

The Taal volcano sits on the island of Luzon, just a mere 31 miles from the the Philippine capital of Manila. The volcano is part of the infamous Ring of Fire that rims the Pacific Ocean. In the case of Mt. Taal, its volcanic activity is created by the subduction of the Eurasian Plate underneath the Philippine Mobile Belt. This process dates back at least 500,000 years.

Today the small volcanic island, called Volcano Island that sits in the middle of Lake Taal is one of the most geologically active places on the planet. In the last five hundred years, the volcano has erupted 33 times. Several of these eruptions have been fatal with the death toll often exceeding 1,000. The last major eruption occurred in 1977, though the volcano has been in a continual state of unrest since 1991.

Crater Lake

Crater Lake is also a small volcanic island within a much more ancient volcanic caldera that is no longer active

Crater Lake is also a small volcanic island within a much more ancient volcanic caldera that is no longer active

Peaceful Wizard Island

At first glance, Crater Lake in Oregon (USA) shares many similarities with the Taal volcano in the Philippines. For starters it has a small, volcanic island in a large lake, which was created by a large volcanic eruption, a long time ago. The major difference is that the island has not seen any volcanic activity in about five thousand years. Despite this long period of inactivity, Crater Lake is still considered an active volcano.The reason being is that in geological time, five thousand years is next to nothing. As a result, the place will retain its classification for thousands of years to come, even though future geological activity is doubtful.

© 2020 Harry Nielsen

Comments

Harry Nielsen (author) from Durango, Colorado on January 15, 2020:

Thanks so much for commenting. At present, things have quieted down. Unfortunately, no one knows if this is just a lull or if it is the end of present eruptions.

N M Page on January 15, 2020:

Thanks for sharing this information, it is much more detailed that any news forecast. It gives us an idea of the truth about and why this is happening. To all those in the Philippines send them love and compassion.