Big regional quake likely within 30 years

Big regional quake likely within 30 years

 

S’pore almost sure to be affected, says top earth scientist

 

By LEE U-WEN

 

(SINGAPORE) A top earth scientist predicts that an earthquake measuring 8.8 or 8.9 on the Richter scale is likely to strike South-east Asia within the next 30 years – and will almost certainly cause tremors that would affect the region, including Singapore.

 

This is the view of Professor Kerry Sieh, founding director of the new Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS) at Nanyang Technological University, who expressed concern that too many Singaporeans have the impression that the Republic is ‘disaster-safe’ .

 

‘There’s no such thing as a country that is perfectly safe. The chances of Singapore being affected by another major earthquake nearby is better than 50 per cent. We are only an arm’s length away, so we’ve got to start planning as if we could be affected by an earthquake or tsunami,’ the 57-year-old told BT in an interview.

 

Last year, when two earthquakes jolted the Indonesian island of Sumatra, hundreds of buildings in Singapore shook as a result of the ensuing tremors.

 

Prof Sieh, who will formally begin work full-time at EOS next month, is busy wrapping up a 30-year stint as a geologist at the California Institute of Technology in the US.

 

The EOS will focus on natural disasters in the region, including tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and climate change studies.

 

While forecasting a natural disaster is one thing, convincing the man-in-the- street to take these warnings seriously is a whole different ball game, according to Prof Sieh. ‘You tell people that something is happening in 30 years’ time. But many, especially those in the villages in China, simply cannot relate.

 

‘To them, their only concern is putting food on the table, or worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow. Frankly, 30 years is not a long time as far as the earth is concerned. It’s still within our lifetime,’ he said.

 

The key to reaching out to the general population, he said, lies in education. He added that he has already mapped out plans to work with the Ministry of Education here to roll out a comprehensive learning package for students about how the earth functions.

 

‘I believe that every child should have a basic, fundamental knowledge about how the planet works, why we feel tremors and how to react to them, what is the impact of climate change, and so on,’ he said.

 

His vision is to see every primary and secondary school, junior college and polytechnic have in place such a programme as part of their curriculum for the younger generation to ‘learn about life’.

 

To reach out to a wider audience, he said that it was likely the EOS would produce documentaries and films that could be used to educate Singapore and the region about natural disasters.

 

Although the EOS will mark its official opening only next January, Prof Sieh hopes to have a sizeable number of world-class faculty on board by then. Recruitment has already begun – the target is to have 20 faculty, 70 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, and support staff in the next five years.

 

Even as most of the new staff are likely to be foreigners, the best way for South-east Asia to benefit in the long run is to have a steady pool of trained local earth scientists who can do good research for the region.

 

‘It’s not going to be difficult to bring the top people here. Singapore is a country that sells itself, really. The salaries are competitive and the government is highly supportive of building a solid research environment, ‘ he said.

 

Source: Business Times

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