Huge eruption of Philippines volcano seen from space

Taal volcano
In this time-series animation captured by Japan's Himawari-8 satellite, the volcanic plume from the Taal eruption can be seen spreading on Jan. 12 and Jan. 13, 2020. (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

Forty-three years after its last eruption, the Taal Volcano awoke on Jan. 12, sending a plume of steam and sulfur skyward and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people on the island of Luzon, Philippines.  

This eruption was captured in images by Japan’s Himawari-8 satellite. An animation of the satellite data, released by NASA's Earth Observatory, shows the volcanic plume as it spread over the course of Jan. 12 and 13. 

According to the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program, Taal underwent frequent eruptions throughout the mid-1960s until 1977. In 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011, the volcano periodically trembled with earthquakes and occasionally showed increased hydrothermal activity (superhot liquids seeping to the surface), all reminders that Taal remained an active volcano. On Jan. 12, the volcano made itself known with a steam-driven eruption that sent ash 9 miles (14 kilometers) into the air, according to CNN. The steam eruption was followed by the appearance of a gushing lava fountain, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) in Quezon City. 

As of Jan. 13, more than 25,000 people had sought shelter in evacuation centers, according to CNN, though the actual number of evacuees was likely to be higher. PHIVOLCS has urged the total evacuation of everyone within an 8.7-mile (14 km) radius of the volcano. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Philippines estimated on Twitter that more than 450,000 people live in that area around the mountain. 

The volcano is emitting sulfur dioxide in its eruptive plume, and authorities have warned locals to use facemasks or wet clothes to avoid breathing in affected air or small particles of ash. The eruption has also brought a new spate of earthquakes to the mountain’s flanks, with the Philippine Seismic Network detecting at least 144 earthquakes in the area since Jan 12. According to PHIVOLCS, 44 of the earthquakes were big enough to be felt. 

Beyond the dangers of ash and toxic gases, Taal sits on a large lake. A sudden eruption could create a dangerous tsunami that would swamp nearby towns and villages, according to CNN. More eruptive activity is possible in the coming days. 

Originally published on Live Science.

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Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for sister site Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.