Phivolcs cleans up ash-covered instruments, sets up new stations near Taal Volcano

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 15 2020 03:48 PM

MANILA -- With most of its monitoring stations on Taal Volcano destroyed or unreachable, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) on Wednesday said it has already deployed people to check on existing instruments and to set up new ones outside the lake.

Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum said the agency was able to get measurements and data from stations around the volcano and from the larger Philippine National Seismic Network, which monitors earthquake activity all over the country.

Solidum said that they have five seismic stations with seismometers and GPS (Global Positioning System) at the Taal Volcano island. Of the five, only one is able to transmit data.

“We don’t know if the other stations are really destroyed,” he said.

Phivolcs Volcano Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division chief Mariton Bornas said it is highly likely that those around the main crater blew up during the volcano’s initial eruption.

“The problem with those around (Taal) lake is that their solar panels were covered in ash,” Solidum said. “We’re cleaning these stations.”

“We also have new stations being set up, auxiliary stations in Tagaytay,” he added. “Our teams are still scouting (locations).”

Bornas later showed ABS-CBN photos of Phivolcs’ station in Agoncillo town in Batangas with a solar panel covered with thick layer of ash. Agoncillo was among the towns that experienced heavy rainfall on Sunday as the Taal Volcano spewed ash and steam.

She said the additional stations being set up will ensure that even if the volcano generates an explosive eruption, Phivolcs will still have a functioning volcano monitoring network. 

Phivolcs belied comments that they do not have enough instruments monitoring Taal.

“We have advanced instrumentation in Taal. We started improving it with the help of our Japanese colleagues,” Bornas said. “The seismometers are state-of-the-art.”

She added that they were even the first in the world to have continuous carbon dioxide monitoring for a volcanic lake.

“It’s not easy because the lake is acidic and the instrument can be damaged,” she said. “We pioneered it in Taal with the help of Belgian scientists.”

Bornas said the instruments installed on Taal Volcano are able to measure gas, temperature, and acidity of the crater lake.

However, because Taal’s volcanic activities escalated rapidly, they were not able to fully utilize the instruments for preparations, Bornas said. Those around the crater lake are most likely destroyed by now, she later told ABS-CBN.

After the press conference, Solidum showed to media Phivolcs’ volcano monitoring station. He explained graphs that showed how activities such as earthquakes or the tilt of the volcano suddenly escalated after 1 p.m. on Sunday. It took only five hours for the alert level to be raised from 2 to 3 and finally 4.

Bornas also earlier explained that they did not monitor any change in the acidity or temperature of the lake before the phreatic eruption of Taal Volcano on Sunday afternoon.