Living safer near a volcano
The research of Belgian professor Alain Bernard (ULB) has allowed the Philippines to better predict volcanic eruptions.
The Philippines, with its 7641 islands, is home to 300 volcanoes, 23 of which are potentially active. This includes the 'Taal' Volcano, located about 60 kilometers from the capital, Manila, on the island of Luzon. The Taal is the world’s fifth most dangerous volcano. Since 1572, it has recorded 33 eruptions.
What makes the Taal special is that it forms an island in the middle of a large lake, the Taal Lake, while a crater lake lies within the volcano itself. Since 1975, ten years after the last serious eruption, more and more fish is being produced in the Taal Lake: thousands of tons of tilapia and milkfish per year.
The fish farming attracted 8000 inhabitants, who live only two to three kilometers from the main active crater. Because the population pressure is so high, especially on the island of Luzon, it is impossible for the government to forbid these people to live there: every small piece of land has to be used.
Moreover, the breathtaking view attracts large numbers of weekend tourists from Manila to the surroundings of the Taal Lake. In the worst-case scenario, 230,000 people would need to be evacuated in the event of an eruption.
Prof. Alain Bernard managed to install a system that allows to predict an eruption at an early stage. A series of mini-sensors were placed in the crater lake to continuously measure a number of parameters such as the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the temperature. The CO2 fluxes in particular proved to be an extremely sensitive indicator for the amount of magma gases in the crater lake and thus for the volcanic activity of the Taal.
Previously, Prof. Bernard had already installed a similar system in Indonesia, which made it possible to predict the eruption of the Mount Kelud Volcano three weeks in advance.
The research was carried out in collaboration with UCLouvain and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS), the official Philippine body which can issue a mandatory evacuation order in case of an eruption. For his research, Prof. Bernard received half a million euros from ARES, the umbrella organisation of French-speaking universities, responsible for development cooperation.