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​Tier 3 to ASE/EOS Prof Horton and collaborators for the Southeast Asia SEA-level Program – towards home-grown expertise on sea level science and policy in Singapore and Southeast Asia

Published on: 08-May-2020

The SouthEast Asia SEA-level program sets out to produce world class interdisciplinary sea-level science focused on Southeast Asia and framed to promote resilient coastal cities and communities in Singapore and the surrounding region.

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The program, known as SEA2, is led by Prof Benjamin Horton (EOS/ASE) with Assoc Profs Emma Hill  and Prof Adam Switzer and Asst Profs Aron Meltzner and Asst Prof David Lallemant playing important leading roles. The multi-disciplinary team includes experts from ASE/EOS includes Assoc Prof Xianfeng Wang and Asst Prof Perrine Hamel and a range of other collaborators from NTU, NUS and elsewhere. An important goal of the program is to train a home-grown scientific community that can respond to Singapore and Southeast Asia’s need for future sea-level projections and their interpretation, that is both the scientific basis and its translation into policy.

Tier 3 is the largest of NRF’s Academic Research Funds, supporting high-impact, multidisciplinary research programs over five years. SEA2 addresses the issue of rising sea levels, a global phenomenon resulting from climate change, that is making coastal cities and infrastructure vulnerable to flooding, coastal erosion, salinization of surface and ground waters, and degradation of coastal habitats. But the process of sea-level rise is not uniform, in fact it can vary significantly between places depending on various factors including ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns, gravitational and deformational effects of land ice mass changes (like melting polar ice sheets), and tectonic (vertical) movements. This is why it is key to have a regional sea-level program for predicting the impact of sea-level rise in Southeast Asia, rather than relying on data from Europe and North America.  

This comprehensive program will cover rates, mechanisms, and geographic variability of sea-level change. Improved accuracy of future projections of sea level rise and extreme sea level will come from sophisticated modeling of instrumental, historical, and geological sea-level datasets in Southeast Asia. The future projections will be extremely robust thanks to the added consideration of vertical land movements combining space geodesy and numerical models. This will capture land motions caused by anything from draining of peatland and groundwater extraction to earthquakes and glacial cycles.

Historical records of sea-level fluctuations will be extended beyond what is currently known using various geological proxies such as cave deposits or coral microatolls. These records will help understand dynamics of sea level fluctuation in response to climatic changes that may be specific to Southeast Asia. The extent of extreme sea levels produced by storm surges or tsunamis is a crucial part of future sea-level predictions and will be modeled based on historical and tide gauge data.

Ultimately, all the science described above, and more, will be used to quantify and forecast the potential impact of future sea-level rise on coastal communities in Southeast Asia, based on simulations of local vulnerability in different scenarios, where the role of natural infrastructure for flood-risk reduction and other long-term adaptations will be considered.

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