In further proof that real life is wilder than fiction, the most active volcano in the Philippines is currently spewing its guts out, creating a scene that looks straight out of Lord of the Rings and that’s caused tens of thousands of nearby residents to flee.
Mount Mayon, located in the coconut-growing province of Albay, about 200 miles southeast of Manila, is no stranger to eruptions: The stratovolcano renowned for its symmetry lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire right around the Philippine trench. Here the Philippine sea plate plunges beneath the Eurasian tectonic plate, resulting in frequent volcanic activity. Since its first recorded eruption in 1616 the volcano has blown its lid about 50 times. Its deadliest eruption, in 1814, claimed over 2,200 lives.
The latest spate of activity, which began over the weekend, consists of “quiet lava effusion from a new summit lava dome, lava flow down the Miisi and Bonga Gullies and lava collapse events,” according to a bulletin issued at 8 a.m. local time Tuesday by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. Basically, lava is oozing out of the dome, while tremors are causing chunks of debris to tumble further downslope.
“This eruption isn’t out of its character,” Erik Klemetti, a volcanologist at Denison University, told Earther. “[Mount Mayon] has had a whole bunch over the last 20 years. Right now, it started off a little more vigorously, although not disturbingly so.”
Filipino volcanologists have issued an Alert level 3, indicating that the volcano is in a “relatively high level of unrest” and a “hazardous eruption is possible within weeks or even days.” If the alert level is raised to 4 or 5—meaning an explosive eruption is imminent—emergency response officials may begin forced evacuations, according to the Associated Press.
But already, Mount Mayon’s frightening visage has caused folks to flee in droves. The AP reports that 34,000 nearby villagers have left for safety since the weekend, and that officials are strongly advising people not to venture within 6 to 7 kilometers (3.7 to 4.4 miles) of the volcano due to the danger of rockfalls, landslides, or an explosive eruption.
Elsewhere on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia’s Mount Agung is acting up again. The Bali volcano that sent a massive cloud of ash into the sky in late November coughed up another thick ash cloud over the weekend, prompting Indonesia’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources to issue a Code Orange aviation alert. Another alert was issued today, after the Sinabung volcano in North Sumatra, Indonesia, spewed some enormous ash clouds of its own.
It sure feels like the Earth is having a lot of explosive outbursts at once, but according to Klemetti, this is just par for the course on our geologically active planet.
“This is totally typical,” he said. “Indonesia has has hundreds of volcanoes, and there are usually a couple erupting at the same time. At any given time on the planet, there are probably a dozen volcanoes [erupting]. By no means it it an uptick in activity.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the number of times Mount Mayon has erupted in the past. It has erupted roughly 50 times in recorded history, not 500.