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Report on Mayon (Philippines) — June 2001

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 26, no. 6 (June 2001)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Mayon (Philippines) Eruption escalates; pyroclastic flow on 24 June

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2001. Report on Mayon (Philippines). In: Wunderman, R. (ed.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 26:6. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200106-273030.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin



13.257°N, 123.685°E; summit elev. 2462 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The following report covers activity during 28 May through most of June 2001, and discusses the high-energy event that began 24 June. This report was compiled from those posted on the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) website. Until the evening of 23 June the five-step PHIVOLCS hazard status system for Mayon stood at Alert Level 3, a status that implies a rapid rate of magma supply and that an explosive eruption may occur within weeks. This projection proved true as both the monitored parameters and the vigor or eruptive events rose significantly in late June. A pyroclastic flow on 24 June stimulated the rise to Alert Level 5, and this status remained for all or most of the month. Tables 3 and 5 summarize SO2 flux and seismic data; table 4 describes the qualitative scale of crater glow intensity.

Table 3. SO2 fluxes for Mayon during 28 May through June 2001; questionable values that were ambiguously referred to in the daily report appear in parentheses. Mayon's stated baseline values have been ~ 500 metric tons per day (tons/day). Values were measured by COSPEC. Taken from reports posted on the PHIVOLCS website.

Date SO2 flux (metric tons/day)
30 May 2001 2,406
31 May 2001 2,924
01 Jun 2001 (2,900)
08 Jun 2001 4,312
10 Jun 2001 4,115
11 Jun 2001 2,358
13 Jun 2001 1,956
14 Jun 2001 936
18 Jun 2001 4,664
19 Jun 2001 5,978
20 Jun 2001 5,652
21 Jun 2001 9,448
25 Jun 2001 (4,640)
26 Jun 2001 3,620
27 Jun 2001 4,002
29 Jun 2001 1,674

Table 4. Qualitative scale of the intensity of crater glow used at Mayon. Through mid-June, crater glow fell into one of the first three categories; heightened activity led to stronger glow and Intensity IV was introduced; it was first reported for the evening of 23 June. Crater glow was often mentioned in daily reports, sometimes with descriptions of the incandescent part(s) of the dome or lava flows. Courtesy of PHIVOLCS.

Intensity Crater glow
I Faint crater glow
II Fairly visible with naked eye
III Bright
IV Intense

Table 5. Mayon seismic data at Upper Anoling station as posted on daily reports in June, with the relative amplitudes shown in parentheses where clearly stated. Dashes are used to represent undisclosed values. "Tremor" refers to short-duration high-frequency harmonic tremor linked to rockfalls. Some intervals of continuous tremor appeared in late June as noted in the comments. Courtesy of PHIVOLCS.

Date High-frequency earthquake Low-frequency earthquake Tremor Comment
01 Jun 2001 1 (4 mm) 5 (16 mm) 48 (19 mm) --
02 Jun 2001 4 7 42 --
03 Jun 2001 1 (23.0 mm) 2 (2.2 mm) 45 (8.0 mm) --
04 Jun 2001 4 (42 mm) 11 (28 mm) 57 (maximum deflection) --
05 Jun 2001 -- 6 (5.5 mm) 118 (maximum deflection) --
06 Jun 2001 -- 5 (6.2 mm) 65 (44 mm) --
07 Jun 2001 -- 4 (10 mm) 118 (13 mm) --
08 Jun 2001 2 (14 mm) 8 (21 mm) 116 (14 mm) --
09 Jun 2001 -- 18 (15 mm) 82 (19 mm) --
10 Jun 2001 -- 10 (10 mm) 126 (19 mm) --
11 Jun 2001 -- 6 (1.5 mm) 143 (14 mm) --
12 Jun 2001 -- 6 (3.0 mm) 103 (15 mm) --
13 Jun 2001 -- -- 198 (12 mm) --
14 Jun 2001 -- 3 (10 mm) 232 (12 mm) --
15 Jun 2001 -- 1 (28 mm) 172 (16 mm) --
16 Jun 2001 -- -- 157 (20 mm) --
17 Jun 2001 1 (7 mm) -- 230 (13 mm) --
18 Jun 2001 2 (32 mm) -- 196 (9 mm) --
19 Jun 2001 -- -- 200 (24 mm) --
20 Jun 2001 -- -- 76 (14 mm) Continuous high-frequency harmonic tremor (1.5-3.0 mm)
21 Jun 2001 -- -- 265 (21 mm) Continuous high-frequency harmonic tremor (1.5 mm)
22 Jun 2001 -- -- 216 (23 mm) One explosion earthquake (23 mm)
23 Jun 2001 -- 8 (13 mm) 211 (23 mm) --
24 Jun 2001 -- 14 (17 mm) 132 (50 mm) 12 additional low-frequency tremors (34 mm) and continuous harmonic tremor (3 mm)
25 Jun 2001 -- -- -- --
26 Jun 2001 -- 24 84 --
27 Jun 2001 -- -- -- --
28 Jun 2001 -- 9 67 --
29 Jun 2001 -- 6 10 --
30 Jun 2001 -- 10 24 --

Activity during 1-8 June 2001. During this time period, seismic instruments registered generally increasing numbers of tremors (table 5). Many of these tremors were of high frequency but short duration and inferred to be associated with mass-wasting of lava-dome fragments that descended from the volcano's SE rim. Other kinds of tremor were seen later in the month (see table 5).

The summit lava dome glowed brightly (Intensity III, table 4) during cloud breaks on the night of 1 June. During 2-8 June crater glow held steady at a Level II intensity except for 4 and 6 June when it varied between Level II and Level III. Incandescent materials occasionally rolled down from Mayon's summit, traveling along the SE slopes in the upper Bonga Gully. Glow came from detached zones of extruding, pasty lava at the dome's W base and SE face. On 3 and 6 June moderate to weak steaming issued from the summit crater.

Activity during 9-16 June 2001. As observed from Legazpi City and vicinity, lava fragments frequently detached from the summit dome and slid or rolled into the Bonga Gully to the SE and deposited a pyroclastic fan on Mayon's middle to upper slopes. Nearly continuous rockfalls produced distinct ground tremor with high-frequency spectra. PHIVOLCS noted that recordings of these multiple rockfall events from the reference station in Upper Anoling graded into each other, indicating more vigorous extrusions and rockfall events than those recorded by the station.

Ground-deformation surveys using EDM (Electronic Distance Meter) instruments were unable to make readings due to weather during 2-8 June. The previous reading, made on 28-29 May 2001, found universal inflation (i.e. displacements along the line LHO-Lower Slope measured -9 mm and the line Buan-MRHO, -6 mm). Ground deformation recorded on 10 June again indicated a minor degree of inflation (the line Buang-MRHO, -1 mm).

At 1819 on 12 June, part of the summit lava dome collapsed and heralded a period of vigorous rockfalls from the lava dome; however, no lava flow formed. Bright glow (Intensity III) occurred at a point in the mid-portion of the dome where extruding pasty lava squeezed out.

On 10 June moderate steam emission at the summit correlated with an SO2 flux of 4,115 metric tons/day (t/d) (table 3). At this point in time, Mayon was still considered to be in a mild state of eruption with magma only slowly intruding the summit. On 11 June PHIVOLCS noticed an increase in the overall tempo of unrest, including days with elevated numbers of rockfall-induced tremor.

At 1347 on 11 June the dome partially collapsed and produced a small pyroclastic flow that descended along the Bonga Gully. The flow reached about 1,480 m elevation and produced a thin ash cloud, which drifted E. Similarly, on 12 June at about 1819 the summit lava dome again partly collapsed, spawning vigorous, continuous emissions of lava fragments until about 1930.

Activity during 17-23 June 2001. On 23 June mild explosive activity and lava fountaining took place. Prior to that, a significant change in the pace of unrest was indicated by the appearance of tremor at 0405 on 19 June. A lava flow spotted during a cloud break from 1008-0152 enabled observers to see an intense glow emitted by the dome and the margins of a newly emplaced lava flow, which extended to about 500 m below the summit dome (to ~1,800-1,900 m elevation). The tremor so dominated the seismic record that discrete rockfall counts dropped. Only 76 rockfall-related tremors were registered, although extrusive activity had clearly increased. The lava flow signified that hotter, more fluid, and more voluminous lavas were being extruded. The new lava corresponded to a sudden increase in sulfur dioxide emissions from 1,700 metric tons/day (t/d) the previous week to nearly 6,000 t/d on 19 June.

By 20 June the volcanic edifice had inflated slightly as recorded by ground-deformation surveys. Tiltmeters midway up on the NE edifice, at the Buan-Mayon Resthouse station, registered accelerating inflation. During 1209-1218 on 20 June a portion of the lava dome collapsed, generating brownish dust clouds along the Bonga Gully.

On 21 June lavas were seen exiting from two points of the dome. Two lobes descended, both on the SE side (in the general direction of the settlements of Buyuan and Mabinit). Magma ascent through the uppermost levels of the volcano's conduit appeared to be associated with high-frequency harmonic tremor at all five seismic stations in the vicinity of the volcano. Magma intruding the summit area also exerted pressure on the edifice and influenced ground tiltmeters. The COSPEC instrument measured the highest SO2 flux of the June episode: ~9,000 t/d.

The main lava flow moved SE in the general direction of Mabinit on 21 June, and the lowermost toe of the lava flow descended 300 m farther, to ~1,500 m elevation. On 22 June the lava flow reached 1,200 m elevation; by 23 June, it had descended 3.4 km from the summit to reach 600 m elevation.

At 1909 on 23 June, lava fountaining in the summit crater ejected material at least 50 m above the rim, with the bulk of pyroclasts falling to the SE (into the upper Bonga Gully). As lava flows continued to travel SE they generated high-frequency tremor. Activity was still dominated by relatively rapid but quiet effusion of lava. At this point the seismicity lacked clear explosion signals and deformation measurements lacked inflation signals; it was believed that such signals would presumably accompany a major explosive eruption (if one were to occur).

Activity during 24-30 June 2001. At 2000 on 23 June the Alert Level was raised from 3 to 4 when the already substantial lava extrusions changed from quiet effusions to more explosive, but nonetheless non-destructive, Strombolian outbursts. The latter were first observed in the crater at 1909 on 23 June. Small explosions in the crater sent molten lava up to 50 m above the rim.

At 0317 on 24 June, a series of strong explosions were audible as far as Lignon Hill Observatory, 12 km SSE of the volcano. Accompanying ash columns reached 1 km above the summit. Visible molten lava fragments were thrown to 300 m in height. Lofted ash blew N and ash fell in the barangays (settlements) Amtic and Tambo of Ligao City and barangays San Vicente, San Antonio, Quinastillojan, Bantayan, Tabiguian, and Buang of Tabaco City.

At 1245 on 24 June a pyroclastic flow descended the Bonga and Buyuan Gullies to ~600 m elevation, about 4 km from the summit. An explosion from the crater also produced a 5-km-high column. Ash associated with the pyroclastic flow ascended to ~2.4 km altitude. The two ash-laden clouds then drifted NE, in the general direction of Malilipot (a town 10 km away on the coast).

The 24 June pyroclastic flows signaled the start of explosive eruptions with tall columns. At 1300 the hazard status was raised from 4 ("Hazardous Eruption Possible Within Days") to 5 ("Hazardous Eruption in Progress"). Concomitant with Alert Level 5, the previously delineated 7-km-radius Extended Danger Zone in the SE sector was extended to a radius of 8 km. People within these new zones evacuated. Areas to the E and NE of the volcano were considered prone to heavy ashfall due to prevailing winds.

Another major eruption sequence began at 1444 on 24 June, characterized by strong explosions, multiple pyroclastic flows around the volcano, and lava flows into SE-flank gullies. Following drainages, the pyroclastic flows passed the settlements of Basud, Buyuan, Mabinit-Bonga, Miisi, Anoling, Maninila, Nabonton, and Buang, all within the 6-km-radius Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ).

The main eruption cloud discharged from the crater rose to about 10 km altitude and moderate-to-heavy ash blew mainly NE towards Malilipot. Residents ~5 km N of Malipot (in Tabaco) along the coast also experienced light ashfalls. Lava flows and dilute ash clouds dominated activity after 1541. Activity waned in the early morning of 25 June. Beginning at 0037 on 25 June seismicity diminished from continuous tremors into discrete events.

On 26 June Mayon lapsed into an apparently quiet state; however, SO2 flux remained high at 4,640 t/d and reflected active degassing from both the crater as well as from newly extruded lavas covering the summit area. Lava still flowed SE from the summit area along Bonga Gully on the 26th, but its lowermost portions moved slowly. The lava by then extended ~4.3 km from the summit. Its flow front constantly shed incandescent boulders that released gases and ash, burning vegetation along its path. However, the crater's diminished extrusion rate led PHIVOLCS scientists to conclude that the lava flow was unlikely to reach populated areas.

Although outward quiet prevailed for most of 24-30 June, several explosion signals occurred during 26-27 June. One explosion sent an ash cloud to about a kilometer above the summit and caused small lava avalanches in the upper Bonga Gully. Lava continued to trickle from the summit towards the SE along the Bonga Gully. From this time through at least 29 June crater glow stood at Intensity II and lava continued to descend from the summit crater.

Heavy rains fell on the night of 27 June. A team dispatched to the Padang area watched the river channel for lahars. Only a muddy stream flow was observed and rains eventually abated after about an hour. The swollen, muddy streams after this time meant that smaller amplitude volcanic earthquakes were often obscured by the seismic noise produced by the streams. Ground deformation measurements employing EDM instruments and electronic tiltmeters continued to indicate inflation of the edifice. Observers also noticed small rockfalls, and vigorous steaming of the hot lava deposits.

At 1605 and 1702 on 30 June, explosions generated pyroclastic flows that swept the upper and middle slopes within the Bonga Gully and produced billowing ash clouds to about 4 km altitude. Their runout distance reached ~3 km from the summit (in the general direction of Matanag). During the eruption an undisclosed portion of the volcano's E sector also collapsed along the Upper Basud Gully.

Geologic Background. Beautifully symmetrical Mayon, which rises above the Albay Gulf NW of Legazpi City, is the Philippines' most active volcano. The structurally simple edifice has steep upper slopes averaging 35-40 degrees that are capped by a small summit crater. Historical eruptions date back to 1616 and range from Strombolian to basaltic Plinian, with cyclical activity beginning with basaltic eruptions, followed by longer term andesitic lava flows. Eruptions occur predominately from the central conduit and have also produced lava flows that travel far down the flanks. Pyroclastic flows and mudflows have commonly swept down many of the approximately 40 ravines that radiate from the summit and have often devastated populated lowland areas. A violent eruption in 1814 killed more than 1,200 people and devastated several towns.

Information Contacts: Raymundo S. Punongbayan and Ernesto Corpuz, Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS), C.P. Garcia Avenue, U.P. Diliman, 1101 Quezon City, Philippines (URL: http://www.phivolcs.dost.gov.ph/).