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NTU Earth Observatory of Singapore leads study that warns of possible flooding to coastlines across Southeast Asia
Scientists at the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS) and Asian School of the Environment (ASE), at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and collaborating institutions in the United States, the Netherlands, and Indonesia, have discovered that more than 6,000 years ago sea level in Southeast Asia saw huge fluctuations in the absence of human-driven climate change.
A new study, published today in Nature Communications, reveals that these naturally occurring wild fluctuations could lead to disastrous flooding for the millions of people in Southeast Asia who live along coastlines. Led by EOS Senior Research Fellow, Dr Aron Meltzner, the work was supported by EOS and National Research Foundation (NRF) Fellowships awarded to co-authors Associate Professor Adam Switzer and Assistant Professor Emma Hill.
To do this work, the team used a form of coral known as a microatoll, a circular coral colony in which the top is dead while the lower parts of the coral remain alive. “A microatoll’s characteristic shape indicates that its upward growth was repeatedly limited from exposure to extreme low tides over the lifetime of the coral,” said Assoc Prof Switzer. As these corals grow, they track changes in sea level with remarkable precision, providing a reliable record of past sea levels with unprecedented detail for the Southeast Asian region.
Focusing on two sites on Belitung Island, Indonesia, it was discovered that similarly large sea-level oscillations were recorded in the corals at both locations. “According to conventional understanding of ocean circulation and ice-melting history, such oscillations should not occur. And so we were mystified at the results from our first site,” said Dr Meltzner.
But what was significant in these findings is that the results were reproducible at more than one site. “After finding a similar pattern at a second site, it became clear that the coral growth patterns must reflect regional changes in sea level — there would be way too many coincidences otherwise,” Dr Meltzner added.
“If similar oscillations occur again in Southeast Asia in the next two centuries, millions of people and all associated infrastructure would be impacted,” noted co-author Professor Benjamin Horton from Rutgers University in the US. This would occur on top of the rise in sea level that is already projected to result from climate change, and it is a scenario we must now plan for all across the region.
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About Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS)
The Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS) is Singapore’s main hub for conducting research on geohazards, focusing on tectonics, volcanoes, and climate change in and around Southeast Asia. The Observatory is committed to acquiring knowledge of these natural hazards, passing this information on to affected communities by contributing to forecasts of such natural phenomena and helping them adapt to these environmental challenges.
The Earth Observatory of Singapore, an autonomous institute of Nanyang Technological University, is a Research Centre of Excellence located on the campus of the University.
About Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
A research-intensive public university, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) has 33,500 undergraduate and postgraduate students in the colleges of Engineering, Business, Science, Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences, and its Interdisciplinary Graduate School. It has a new medical school, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, set up jointly with Imperial College London.
NTU is also home to world-class autonomous institutes – the National Institute of Education, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Earth Observatory of Singapore, and Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering – and various leading research centres such as the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI), Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N) and the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight (ACI).
Ranked 13th in the world, NTU has also been ranked the world’s top young university for the last two years running. The University’s main campus has been named one of the Top 15 Most Beautiful in the World. NTU also has a campus in Novena, Singapore’s medical district..
For more information, visit www.ntu.edu.sg