Coupled Human and Natural Systems Lab - Janice Lee

The Coupled Human and Natural Systems Lab (CHNS-Lab) is interested in developing research questions that address pertinent environmental challenges in Asia. We use a combination of socioeconomic datasets and geospatial information, and analyse this data using statistical models. In the last few decades, Asia's rapid development has brought about large economic benefits. However, not all aspects of society gain from these benefits. Asia's development has, at times, come at a cost to the environment. Here at the CHNS-Lab, our research is focused on understanding socio-ecological systems which span various topics from agriculture, conservation, and land use and land cover change. The aim of our research is to derive a better and more nuanced understanding of complex socio-ecological systems, and to use our research outputs to develop policy recommendations towards sustainability.

Research Focus

Drivers of Land Use and Land Cover Change

Human-environmental interactions are exemplified in issues related to land use and land cover change (LULCC). Asia is a region of rapid LULCC as a result of economic development and changing demography in rural-urban landscapes. Multiple sociopolitical and economic factors shape and drive the LULCC we observe in this region. We are interested to evaluate the social factors that contribute towards fire activity along the eastern coast of Sumatra. This project combines socioeconomic and environmental datasets to evaluate the contribution of social factors towards the devastating 2015 fires in Sumatra and is funded under a Ministry of Education Tier 1 Grant. We are also interested to understand the extent of agricultural land abandonment in the tropics and are particularly interested in mapping land cover changes related to rice paddy abandonment in Southeast Asia. This project is conducted using the Google Earth Engine platform to detect rice paddy abandonment through changes in annual Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI).

Environmental Change and Food Security

Climate Change and extreme weather events have severe consequences on ecosystems and their provisioning services for agriculture. Asia is of significant importance given high incidences of poverty and food insecurity, a high reliance on agriculture for livelihoods, and significant risks from natural hazards and ecological degradation. In this project funded by the Earth Observatory Singapore, we aim to quantify the damages and losses from tropical cyclones on rice agriculture under future climate change scenarios. This research is conducted in collaboration with Assoc. Prof. Adam Switzer and Prof. Paul Teng.

Managing Tropical Forest Landscapes

Conversion of tropical forests for palm oil, pulp and paper, logging and mining land uses has rendered these landscapes poorer in ecosystem services and biodiversity. Management schemes have been proposed to mitigate the environmental impacts, of which sustainability certification (e.g., Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil or RSPO)  is one of them. In cases where the ecosystem is severely degraded (e.g., peatlands on the eastern coast of Sumatra), ecological restoration initiatives have been rolled out. We are interested to evaluate the effectiveness of the RSPO in improving social welfare for villages associated with RSPO-certified oil palm plantations in Indonesia. We are also interested to investigate the role of community participation in influencing peatland restoration outcomes in Sumatra and collaborate with Asst. Prof. Xingli Giam and Senior Tutor Kwek Yan Chong on developing this project.

Latest Projects

We aim to quantify current and potential environmental impacts of dams on river basins in Southeast Asia, with a focus on Indonesia (Java and Sumatra), one of the most hazard-prone areas in the region.

Our research project aims to understand the impacts of tropical cyclones on rice agriculture by estimating the extent of rice areas damaged by tropical cyclones.