The Earth Observatory of Singapore conducts fundamental research on earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and climate change in and around Southeast Asia, toward safer and more sustainable societies.
Professor Kerry Sieh in Aceh, Indonesia
In just over a decade, the Earth Observatory of Singapore has become a strong and preeminent institution for geohazards research, education, and engagement in Southeast Asia. I feel enormous satisfaction and pride as I take stock of what we’ve built here in such a short time.
Nearly twelve years ago I presented to Singapore the initial proposal to create the EOS. In the interim, the dream articulated in that proposal has come to be — as has quite a bit more that we didn’t anticipate.
Lest we forget, the terrible 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was a total surprise both to the coastal communities it devastated and to our scientific communities. That surprise nurtured Singapore’s interest in creating the EOS. We have done as we promised the leaders of this tiny but forward-looking island nation: Their Earth Observatory has taken a running start in filling the yawning gap in understanding this region’s geohazards. To our neighbours, we have become a hub of multinational research and education. To our Western colleagues, we are an international outpost, welcoming them to be part of our nascent Southeast Asian geohazards community.
My version of an ancient Chinese proverb that I first saw attributed to Ho Chi Minh goes like this: If you wish to do something important for the coming year, plant rice — so you’ll have food on the table at harvest time. If you wish to do something that will be important even ten years on, plant a tree — so you’ll have a reliable source of fruit for the table. If you want to do something that’ll be important for a hundred years, create an institution that nurtures people. Our “rice” has been the annual funding of research, technical, and engagement projects from our core funding. Our “trees” have been the individuals we’ve hired as faculty and office directors and their devoted and talented students and staff. Our “institution” is the Observatory itself and the Asian School of the Environment that it has nurtured.
We took in our first cohorts of PhD students in 2010 and undergraduates in 2014. By mid-2019, we’d graduated 18 PhDs and our first two undergrad classes had finished their programmes. They are now off with degrees in hand, with a good leg up into the professional worlds of their choice. They have the knowledge, imagination, and drive that will enable them to have impact in building humanity’s resilience to geohazards.
Those challenges from our untamed Earth — sea-level rise, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and climate change — did not end with the 2004 tsunami. Our vision is that knowledge of these perils will lead to a reduction of their baleful impacts. Through the remainder of what will undoubtedly be a very challenging 21st century, our success or failure will be measured in the near term by the impact of our own, ongoing research. Through the remainder of the century, though, it will be measured increasingly more by the impact and influence of our academic children.
With the accomplishments, impact, and promise of the EOS well in mind, I can see that the time has come for me to step aside as its Director. I do hope that the new leadership will strive to and have the support to develop an even stronger and more valuable nexus for Southeast Asian geohazards research, education, and community engagement.
My very best wishes to you all.
Professor Kerry Sieh