Geosciences in Singapore: An Overview


Singapore aims to become a knowledge-based economy, and there is a strong commitment from the government to R&D in a number of disciplines. At present, some R&D in the geosciences--particularly in meteorology, climatology, physical geography, water and marine sciences, and environmental science--is going on. This article offers an overview of this R&D, which is taking place in a range of departments and institutes across Singapore.

Meteorological Services Division

Singapore is a tropical island; its climate is characterized by high temperature and pressure, high humidity, and abundant rainfall. The Meteorological Services Division ( MSD), formerly called Meteorological Service Singapore, operates as a division of the National Environment Agency. It provides various weather information and forecasts to the aviation and shipping industries, as well as to the general public. These include aviation forecasts, significant weather prognosis, GMS satellite pictures, the latest radar echoes, and public warnings about floods and smoke haze.

The R&D section of MSD is engaged in the implementation of numerical weather prediction models and other weather analysis and forecasting techniques. The outputs of these models are used to prepare weather and pollution forecasts and to predict marine activities.

Although Singapore is located in a seismically stable zone, free from earthquakes, it is still affected by weak tremors from strong earthquakes occurring along the Indo-Australian tectonic plate region. So MSD also monitors seismic activities over these areas with a network of seven seismic stations in Singapore. It further enhances the present network of seismic stations in Southeast Asia and contributes to the regional earthquake monitoring activity in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region.

National University of Singapore

Matthias Roth, an elected fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, is in the Department of Geography at the National University of Singapore (NUS). His research interests are in boundary-layer meteorology, microclimatology, urban climatology, atmospheric turbulence, and air pollution. Improving our understanding of the physical transfer processes in regions of inhomogeneity, such as Singapore, is important for quantifying and predicting changes in energy and moisture, the dispersion of pollutants, and other parameters that play a key role in climate change. Roth?s main funding is from an NUS University Research Grant. His team, comprising a research fellow and a graduate student, is currently conducting studies on turbulent transfer and exchange, as well as heat island observations in Singapore. These studies are based primarily on field observations and are expected to continue for the next few years.

Roy C. Sidle

Roy C. Sidle, who is a colleague of Roth?s in the NUS Department of Geography, is studying storm-flow generation mechanisms in a steep, headwater catchment in Singapore. The project examines basic processes related to water flow before and after a storm, including how water gets to streams and how long it takes to reach them. Sidle is conducting similar studies in Japan, Thailand, and Malaysia, the larger goal being to ?understand what happens when forests are managed, as well as the impacts of land development,? he says. His research group comprises about five people. Most funding for Sidle's research comes from an NUS University Research Grant, ICRAF (an international forestry group), and the Japanese government.

Sidle feels that more research in geosciences should be carried out in Singapore. But in order to do this well, he says, ?Singapore needs a critical mass of educators/researchers and students.? And for that, Sidle believes that a degree program focused on geosciences should be introduced in Singapore. ?What I envision is a program that would develop critical-thinking skills in the students,? he says. Such a program would also help meet the demand of jobs related to geosciences in Singapore and across the region.

Elsewhere at NUS, in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, research is mainly focused in five areas: atmospheric and aquatic chemistry, air and water pollution control, hazardous waste treatment, bioremediation, and environmental assessment and modeling. The atmospheric and aquatic chemistry research emphasizes better understanding of the chemistry and kinetics of reactions occurring in air and water, particularly atmospheric reactions involving sulfur, mercury and polyaromatic compounds, and aquatic adsorption. The air and water pollution control research deals with strategies to reduce the levels of airborne contaminants and to treat polluted waters. Membrane processes and water recycling are key issues in this area. Research in hazardous waste treatment is looking at means of reducing the impact of toxic compounds in soil and wastes, particularly on organisms in soil. This is related to efforts in bioremediation research, which focus on using biological processes to convert oil and other organic compounds in polluted soils to innocuous compounds. And the environmental assessment and modeling efforts target regional Asia-Pacific environmental issues with a goal of supporting effective planning and legislation.

The Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing ( CRISP) is a research centre of the NUS established with funding from the Agency for Science, Technology & Research of Singapore. CRISP's mission is to develop an advanced capability in remote sensing to meet the scientific, operational, and business requirements of Singapore and the region. CRISP?s current research areas include ocean and coastal studies, tropical vegetation studies, and remote-sensing data-processing techniques. It has also undertaken projects in environmental monitoring, such as the daily monitoring of the regional land/forest fires and monitoring of ocean oil pollution.

CRISP has been active in forging strong linkages with the international remote-sensing research community. For example, CRISP scientists are principal investigators on projects funded by Japan?s National Space Development Agency, in NASA's EO-1 science team, and on the ENVISAT projects of the European Space Agency.

The Tropical Marine Science Institute at NUS undertakes various research projects in marine science, mainly in marine environmental management, marine biotechnology, underwater remote sensing and oceanography. The institute's Physical Oceanography Research Laboratory (PORL) was established in 1995. The main objectives of PORL are to investigate, understand, and monitor the marine processes occurring in tropical seas. It is currently undertaking environmental studies aimed at understanding the impacts of human activities on tropical marine ecosystems. PORL is also conducting studies on land-based inputs into the coastal zone. Other important objectives include developing forefront instrumentation and technologies for marine research and the hydrodynamics of wave-vessel interactions.

Environmental Technology Institute

The Environmental Technology Institute, launched in 1996 by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, also deals with environmental issues. The institute aims to play a vital role in environmental technology in Singapore by researching, developing, and promoting advanced environmental technologies that have industrial applications. This will help create new or more competitive enterprises, as well as more jobs.

Nanyang Technological University

In 1993, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and PWD Corp. jointly established the NTU-PWD Geotechnical Research Centre ( GRC), which aims to promote sound geotechnical practice through R&D. The GRC, which is located within the School of Civil & Environmental Engineering at NTU, carries out R&D associated with geotechnical problems that are relevant to Singapore and the surrounding region. The GRC also offers an M.Sc. program in geotechnical engineering and provides technical services to the public and private sectors. The four key areas of research at the GRC are the foundations of high-rise buildings, land reclamation, tropical soils engineering, and underground space development.

Tropical residual soils cover two-thirds of Singapore?s land. Therefore it is important to understand the formation processes and characteristics of tropical soils, soil-water interactive mechanisms, and the response of such soils to geotechnical and construction activities. Thus R&D in tropical soils at the GRC covers characterization and classification of tropical soils, hydraulic and strength characteristics of tropical soils, seepage as applied to flux boundary conditions, soil deformation due to fluctuating groundwater table, swelling pressures and heave prediction, slope stability inclusive of preventive and remedial measures, drainage system, compaction and soil reinforcement, and geoenvironmental problems such as contaminant transport and groundwater pollution control.

Underground space is an alternative for future space development in Singapore. R&D in this area includes underground space development, construction and utilization of underground rock caverns, geological mapping and modeling for underground space development, numerical modeling of tunneling and tunnel support in soil and rock, study of ground shock propagation and its effect on underground structures, and properties of rock material and rock mass under dynamic loading.


With Singapore?s strong commitment to R&D, many areas in geosciences can be further explored, or new areas worthy of study can be defined. All one needs to do is identify these areas and get started.

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