Introducing Singapore’s sea level experts

By Yun Xuan Poon

Interview with Dr Svetlana Jevrejeva, Principal Research Scientist, National Sea Level Programme, Singapore.

For an island like Singapore, preparing for rising sea levels is a multi-billion dollar affair. Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong has declared that over S$100 billion would have to go into coastal protection over the next 100 years.

The government channeled another S$10 million to set up a special team of climate researchers to investigate the impact of rising sea levels on Singapore and the region. Singapore’s National Sea Level Programme aims to equip policy makers with the information they need to protect Singapore’s coasts.

GovInsider spoke to Dr Svetlana Jevrejeva, Principal Research Scientist of the National Sea Level Programme (NSLP), to find out how the team will prepare Singapore for rising tides.

The National Sea Level Programme’s goals

As a tiny, low-lying island, the problems of rising sea levels and a warming climate are constantly creeping at Singapore’s shores. “Singapore’s coastlines are densely populated by residential homes, business districts and crucial national infrastructure,” Dr Jevrejeva points out. Residential areas like Marine Parade, which houses over 20,000 residents, and Changi Airport could be at risk if Singapore is not ready.

The NSLP exists to model likely outcomes and provide early warning. This year, it will focus on producing “national projections of temperature, rainfall, sea level and other parameters to study the effects of climate change in Singapore and surrounding region”, says Dr Jevrejeva.

As part of this focus, Dr Jevrejeva will be working on developing a new framework for future sea level projections for Singapore. This will improve risk analysis and help the government decide how best to adapt Singapore’s coastal regions, she explains.

Tidal tech

The NSLP is trialling cutting-edge tools that will enhance their research. For instance, it is building a regional ocean model which will help researchers understand Southeast Asia’s seas better. “Sea level science is developing very fast, and it is one of the most challenging and interesting areas in climate research,” Dr Jevrejeva says.

Researchers at the NSLP are also developing a weather prediction tool, by adapting a model from the UK’s Meteorological Office for the region. This tool will predict heavy rainfall with a longer lead time and over a larger area, explains Dr Jevrejeva. This information is shared with the Public Utilities Board, Singapore’s water board, so it has more time to prepare for heavy rainfall and flash floods.

How we can have hope

Climate change can seem like an overwhelming issue for any one organisation, country, or generation to tackle. That is why Dr Jevrejeva believes that “science and education will make a difference” in saving our planet. “The younger generation is taking climate change quite seriously and they are our future leaders and decision makers,” she says.

Good research is crucial for equipping the next generation. “As climate scientists, we need to be proactive,” says Dr Jevrejeva, by presenting strong scientific evidence and information to schools across all levels, from kindergartens to universities.

Singapore will be facing “unprecedented challenges to adapt to rising seas,” says Dr Jevrejeva. “If nothing is done, rising sea levels will significantly impact not only Singapore’s coastal landscape, but also the communities, businesses and the way of life in Singapore.” But her team can help Singapore rise to the challenge.

Images from National Sea Level Programme, Singapore and Lim Ashley - CC BY-ND 2.0.