2021 in Review

Earth Observatory Blog

2021 in Review

Dear EOS Community, 

Looking back on 2021 as Director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS), I am proud of EOS’ achievements as we adapted to numerous challenges associated with COVID-19, while focusing on critical research and producing impactful studies on geohazards and climate change. 

I am indebted to the Administration Office who has worked hard to provide valuable support for research and educational efforts throughout the disruptions caused by COVID-19. Their specific responses to COVID helped to ensure health and safety in the office. All this while, they have also kept the administrative process running while adhering to changing practices of working in the office and working remotely.

Producing excellence in research

As with most of 2020, we focused some of our research efforts on Singapore. The first geophysical survey of its kind conducted across Singapore shed light on its underground structure and potential earthquake risk. Another study established a new sea-level record for Singapore, extending it to nearly 10,000 years ago. The findings from this study are important as Singapore moves to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

A paper led by EOS Research Fellow Stephen Chua, centre, extended Singapore's sea-level record to almost 10,000 years ago. He is pictured alongside his two of his co-authors, Associate Professor Adam Switzer, left, and Professor Benjamin Horton, right (Source: NTU)

Outside of Singapore, our researchers have made headlines with their surprising discovery of the longest slow earthquake ever recorded via the analyses of microatolls found off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.

Part of the team involved in the discovery of the longest slow earthquake on record. From left to right: Assistant Professor Aron Meltzner, PhD student and lead author of the study Mr Rishav Mallick, and Associate Professor Emma Hill (Source: NTU)

June 2021 marked the 30th anniversary of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, where ash was carried from the Philippines to Singapore and is a reminder that the region is one of the most volcanically active on Earth. The research of our volcano scientists continues to provide valuable insights into the volcanic hazards our region faces.  

To reduce disaster risk, our scientists have found a way to quantify the benefits of nature-based solutions. They have come up with a framework that allows comparison of the benefits of nature-based solutions with that of 'grey infrastructure' (traditional engineering approaches to water management) when deciding on solutions for reducing flood risk.

The results of studies undertaken by our researchers are published in more than a hundred scientific papers in top-tier journals, contributing to the EOS mission of advancing toward safer and more sustainable societies. Additionally, EOS has stayed relevant by publishing three articles on the impact of the pandemic as part of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies COVID-19 series.

The climate emergency

This year, with the publication of the 6th IPCC report that we contributed to and the COP26 climate summit, we continue to confront the climate crisis as we try to find ways to mitigate its impacts.

On this front, EOS is proud to have supported the British High Commission and the COP26 Universities Network by partnering with the University of Glasgow to co-lead a report on adaptation and resilience in ASEAN. The report presents the hazards, exposures, and vulnerabilities in the ASEAN, as well as recommendations to policymakers on disaster risk reduction strategies and using nature-based climate solutions in the region.

Building a world-class research hub

In December, we bid farewell to two Principal Investigators (PI) from the volcano group, Professor Fidel Costa and Assistant Professor Caroline Bouvet, who have made invaluable contributions to EOS and the Asian School of the Environment (ASE) during their time here. I thank them for the part they played in the growth of the Observatory and for nurturing the younger scientists. I am glad EOS played a part in their academic careers and I wish them the best in their future endeavours. I am sure we will continue to collaborate closely in the years to come.

In 2021, we also welcomed five new PIs: Assistant Professors Perrine Hamel, Edward Park, and Kyle Morgan, as well as Associate Professors Steve Yim and Sang-Ho Yun, each of them an expert in the fields of climate sciences, risk and resilience, and remote-sensing.

With the arrival of Assoc Prof Sang-Ho Yun, we launched the Earth Observatory of Singapore – Remote Sensing Lab (EOS-RS), a flagship laboratory for Earth observations that maps and monitors hazards and disasters, environmental crises, climate change, and sea-level rise.

Members of the EOS-RS team, from left to right: Associate Professor Sang-Ho Yun, Ms Cheryl Tay, Ms Way Lin, Ms Shi Tong Chin (Source: Phuong Nguyen/Earth Observatory of Singapore)

These changes come as we continually strive to position the Observatory as Southeast Asia’s foremost geohazard and climate change research hub that is uniquely relevant towards maintaining the safety and sustainability of the region.

By the end of this year, we will have graduated seven PhD students – Constance Chua, Rishav Mallick, Molly Moynihan, Sri Budhi Utami, George Williams, Shi Qibin, and Dini Nurfiani – all of whom have shown exceptional academic rigour during their postgraduate years and who will now go on to carry the EOS mission in their post-doctorate careers.

Supporting research and engaging audiences

The Centre for Geohazard Observations (CGO) provided invaluable support to our researchers, even though they were unable to travel overseas to maintain the observation stations. The local technical teams that they set in place prior to the pandemic were able to conduct small-scale maintenance fieldwork under the CGO’s guidance, thereby keeping the stations in reasonably good shape. The team channelled their energy to support sea-level research fieldwork in Singapore.

The Centre for Geohazard Observations has been instrumental in supporting local research fieldwork (Source: Rachel Siao/Earth Observatory of Singapore)

Another of our offices, the Community Engagement (CE) Office, has played an integral part in promoting EOS research while continuing to engage with different audiences to promote a safer and more sustainable future. As a result, EOS’ presence in Singapore’s media is stronger than ever. We now have several ongoing engagement activities with Singapore’s secondary schools and teachers. Led by a new manager, Dr Lauriane Chardot, the CE Office will continue to further the mission of the Observatory through online content and new engagement activities next year.

Looking forward to 2022

The achievements of EOS are not only built upon the expertise in various areas of Earth science and our valued staff but also through partnerships and collaborations, both locally and internationally.

One of the exciting outcomes of our partnerships is Changing Ocean Asia, a documentary on the impacts of climate change on our oceans, premiering in early 2022. It features fellow scientists from EOS and ASE, as well as the esteemed Dr Sylvia Earle, a member of the EOS Scientific Advisory Board.

Changing Ocean Asia, will be launched early 2022 (Source: Liz Courtney)

I wish you and your loved ones a truly happy holiday season and a wonderful 2022 ahead!

Professor Benjamin P Horton
Director, Earth Observatory of Singapore

(Source of thumbnail image: Devansh Jain/Earth Observatory of Singapore)