Welcome to the Earth Observatory of Singapore

Professor Benjamin Horton

Professor Benjamin Horton
Director, Earth Observatory of Singapore
 

The mission of The Earth Observatory of Singapore is to conduct fundamental research on earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and climate change in and around Southeast Asia, towards safer and more sustainable societies.

There has never been a more important time to be an Earth Scientist. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how vulnerable we are to natural events. The Climate Emergency reveals the massive impact that a growing global population is having on our fragile world.

The Earth is complex. It is continually influenced by the sun, gravitational forces, processes emanating from deep within the Earth’s core, and by intricate interactions within the oceans, atmosphere, and cryosphere. At the narrow surface layer, the Earth supports the millions of species of animals, plants, and microbes that form the biosphere.  We do not fully understand yet how our complex planet works or the effects that human beings are having to it.

In the last decade we have seen examples of how fragile our planet has become. Superstorms, wildfires, disease outbreaks, floods, and great earthquakes have taken unimaginable tolls all over the planet. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the scope of the problem. But learning the lessons of every event, every time, is important. The world can respond more effectively – drawing from past experiences and avoiding past mistakes. Most importantly, our fundamental research will enable us to better understand the Earth so we can more accurately predict when these events might happen, determine how severe they will be, and adapt in order to minimise their impact – to make the world more resilient. 

Category 5 "super typhoon" Haiyan, in 2013, crashed into the Philippines with wind speeds hovering near 200 miles per hour – at the time, the strongest cyclone ever. In 2015, the magnitude 7.8 Nepal earthquake destroyed homes throughout much of the country and toppled tall buildings in Kathmandu. In Indonesia, the 2018 eruption of Anak Krakatau illustrated the complexities of the Earth system as the volcano’s collapse triggered a deadly tsunami. More recently, we have seen devastating wildfires in the U.S., Amazon, Indonesia, and Australia, which destroyed treasured forest and rainforest lands, decimated animal populations including many endangered species, and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. We are seeing record seasonal melting of the polar ice caps, and my own research is revealing the catastrophic effects of the resulting sea-level rise in the future if this continues. Many of these natural hazards are made much worse because of climate change. 

Indeed, I believe that, for all the global challenges that we face today, climate change is the one that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than the others. No nation, whether it’s large or small, rich or poor, will be immune from the impacts of climate change. We are already experiencing climate changes here in Singapore and Southeast Asia, where we are seeing rising sea levels, flooding, intense rainfall, strong winds, and extreme temperatures. 

But I do not think that this planet need be condemned to ever-rising temperatures and rising sea levels. In the last decade, attitudes across the world towards the environment have shifted. Where once there was ignorance, inattention, and disbelief about environmental problems, now there is concern, a modicum of political will, and a growing understanding of the causes of environmental problems and their solutions. Such solutions are particularly urgent in Southeast Asia. The greatest diversity of land and marine species is found in the region surrounding Singapore, and many of the region's ecosystems are fragile and under pressure from social and economic forces. Policymakers may be aware of these challenges, but there are few places they can turn to for insight and advice.

Here at the Earth Observatory of Singapore, we address this lack of knowledge. Building on our research teams of international stature, we can help blaze new paths through the fascinating mysteries of this dangerous, dynamic, thin shell of our planet that we call home. Through our outreach activities we increase awareness of our planet and geohazards every day, to help ensure a more sustainable human presence in Southeast Asia.

I strongly believe that healthy people, a healthy planet, and a healthy economy are not alternatives, but can be mutually supportive and achievable together. Our scientific discoveries and new knowledge are critical factors for drawing up policies, mitigation strategies, and educational programmes to help direct the world towards a safer, more resilient, and sustainable future. 

I believe it is not too late, but the clock is ticking and now is the time for Earth Scientists to show strong leadership in the creation of our new sustainable future.

I pledge my vision and energies to creating this leadership role for the Earth Observatory of Singapore to support a healthy and prosperous future for all.