WATCH: Volcanologist Mai Jardeleza Uses Knowledge To Help Filipino Laymen In Times Of Crisis
It's a job no one asked her to do, but one she took on nonetheless for the benefit of her countrymen most vulnerable to natural disasters
Scientist Mai Jardeleza is doing what most can't do in times of crisis: Find ways to distill valuable scientific explanations of natural phenomena into understandable, approachable, bite-sized pieces of information even the the most uninitiated can appreciate—and take seriously, for the benefit of their safety.
The UK-based geologist currently earning her doctorate degree in volcanology rose to Internet fame earlier this month where her short series of videos explaining the recent Taal eruption went viral. In three lengthy, albeit informative, videos, she speaks in Filipino, trying her best to translate no-nonsense scientific jargon into local lingo that all Pinoys from all walks of life and backgrounds can absorb and take to heart.
She's received tons of thanks from people all over the country who recognized the good in her work: Helping everyone understand why they need to do the things they need to do in the event of an eruption and similar catastrophes, instead of just what they need to do.
Unfortunately, this woman of science had to go incognito and stop producing content, and has even deactivate her social media account, save for a YouTube channel called Mai Geo World where the few videos she's made are viewable. (Rumor has it that she had received threats for her work, as she had explicitly stated the lack of government support for scientific pursuits as a factor in why the Taal eruption was insufficiently prepared for).
The last video she posted about Taal was published on January 21, Tuesday, nine days after the eruption. She hasn't been heard from since, but if we're to gauge the climate of Mai's popularity from her videos' comments sections, she'll truly be missed if she doesn't resurface on the Internet soon.
With the three videos we can watch over and over again for more information on Taal, volcanoes, the dangers they pose, and how to protect ourselves from eruptions, we share six main lessons we learned from Mai.
Read on to be informed!
Taal's explosive past
Mai called the incidents "ancient eruptions," and according to research done on the volcano, Taal has had two: The first, 140,000 years ago, and the second, 5,380 years ago. The second eruption was so intense that the foundation that the South of Manila stands on is actually composed of deposits from the event in nature! No one truly knows if an eruption of this magnitude is due any time.
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One last look at home Ernesto Vergara, in a green shirt, looks on as neighbors help him gather what they can from his home in Brgy Alas-as in Taal Volcano Island on Thursday. Residents are trying to salvage what they can of their belongings under mounds of ash before leaving their homes for the last time after the whole island was permanently closed due to threats to safety. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News #TaalVolcano
Level 1 alert
Contrary to the assumptions made by many looking for someone to blame for the catastrophe that followed the January 12 Taal explosion, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) had actually already issued a Level 1 alert warning about Taal Volcano early in 2019.
This means, what happened earlier this month was not entirely a surprise; experts knew to expect it, to some degree, given recent activity (e.g.: earthquakes in Batangas) hinting at an impending explosion. The problem was that civilians and government officials alike failed to grasp the implications of the warning and therefore, failed to prepare for it accordingly should the warning rise—which is exactly what happened; level one turned into level three, and soon reached level four in a matter of days.
The rationale of evacuation
While it's understandable that residents of towns that underwent forced evacuations are itching to return home, the truth is that they're still in grave danger despite Taal no longer spewing an ash column as large or as powerful as it did on January 12.
As Mai put it, there are fissures (deep cracks in the ground that could be indicative of magmatic activity) that have perfectly lined up in these towns and pose direct, life-ending threats to residents, should predictions about them materialize.
That's because those fissures could actually open up, an event caused by magma forcing its way to the surface. A little exercise in using one's imagination is enough to explain why there's so much danger in that; magma will flow out of the ground, or even explode from it—the "spattering" from which could melt and burn living and non-living objects around. The noxious gases that emanate from fissure openings are just as deadly. They're reportedly so purified and contain a deadly concoction of chemicals that inhaling only a small amount is toxic enough to make someone quickly lose consciousness, and is potentially fatal.
Lemery, San Nicolas, Agoncillo, and Talisay are the most high risk areas
"Yung mga taga-diyan po, please. Umalis na kayo diyan sa lugar. Dapat wala nang tao diyan... Natatakot ako para sa mga tao sa Batangas," Mai said without hesitation.
The explanation was long, but firm: She observed how the areas surrounding these towns had changed in relation to Taal's active state via satellite, and the images were crystal clear. There was a significantly large crack in Taal's crater and a massive rock facing the town of Agoncillo whose purpose was to help keep the volcano intact, has dislodged. What does that mean?
The rock, if it impacts Taal volcano's surrounding body of water strongly enough, would undoubtedly cause a volcanic tsunami. And it doesn't stop there; without that protective rock, lava flow and fountains will ensue, and ultimately, an intense eruption—the real eruption that could be equal in intensity as Taal's ancient eruptions mentioned above, almost comparable to a nuclear explosion—will follow.
Taal isn't the only danger
Taal as we know it isn't acting on its own. It actually has several other mini volcanoes within itself and any time, they too could erupt and add to the severity of the damage caused. This is what happened in Taal's 1754 eruption that lasted for 200 days (longer than a third of an entire year). If the movement underneath the earth's surface causing Taal to become active again continues, this possibility cannot be underestimated.
Lack of research, in the end
Unfortunately, despite the importance of Taal volcano to volcanologists around the world (it's called the "Sleeping Giant" and is considered to be one of the world's deadliest volcanoes with tons and tons of history to discover and unique characteristics to study), Taal has not been sufficiently researched on for scientists to understand its patterns better and gather more data to make critical predictions.
There just hasn't been enough funding to support scientific pursuits like this in the Philippines. What Mai emphasized, however, is that funding of this sort is not simply for the sake of advancing science; it impacts the safety of Filipino citizens and the trust they place in authorities responsible for keeping them safe, which means that it should be a priority in national budgeting—if not for science, then for Filipinos' well-being.
Watch Mai's videos below to hear her messages in full!
Images from @maigeoworld's YouTube video "Taal at a glance"