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The first island-wide survey to reveal what lies beneath Singapore and its earthquake risks, environmental news and top stories




SINGAPORE – For the first time, an island-wide geophysical survey has been conducted to reveal what lies beneath Singapore.

With the supply of land scarce, and as the nation looks to decarbonize its energy resources, studying underground could reveal the potential for carbon storage and the potential for harnessing geothermal energy in the future.

The survey was conducted in 2019 by a team of researchers from the Earth Observatory of Nanyang Technological University of Singapore (EOS), and the aim of the survey was to help researchers understand underground structures and detect earthquake risks that the country may face.

The center of Singapore is made of a hard volcanic rock known as the Bukit Timah granite, but little is known about how deep this granite is, said Dr Karen Lithjoy, a seismologist at EOS who led the research study.

“Granite may be a good rock for building underground structures, although it is difficult and expensive to dig, where seismic imaging is useful,” she said.

A total of 88 seismometers have been deployed across the island, including schools, parks, nature reserves, and weather stations, to detect seismic events and background noise.

Much like having 88 “ears,” the seismograph network was sensitive enough to detect the slightest bit of noise or vibration.

Over a 40-day period, scientists detected seismic signals from more than 100 thunderstorms, as well as significant man-made activities, which could include construction work, in northeastern Singapore. Thunder earthquakes are gurgling or ground movements caused by thunder.

Earthquakes have also been detected from distant regions, including in neighboring countries. For example, researchers were able to detect a “reasonably small” earthquake about 100 kilometers north of Singapore.

“What this tells us is that there are active geological faults in this area,” Dr. Lithjoy said.

Geological faults refer to cracks in the earth’s crust. In an active fault, pieces of rock move along the fault line, causing earthquakes.

“So what we want to be able to do is monitor this over the long term, to understand the earthquake locations near Singapore,” she added.

There are no records of earthquakes that have occurred in Singapore, although the republic has periodically experienced low-level earthquakes caused by earthquakes in Sumatra, Indonesia, said Dr. Lithjoy.

The results of the study were published in the scientific journal Geophysical Journal International in April.

A node being installed at Jurong Central Park by Pyae Sone Aung, Earth Observatory Singapore, NTU. Photo: Jeffrey Incello, Earth Observatory Singapore, NTU

Using the same data set, the researchers published another study looking at the large-scale structures that lie beneath Singapore, up to 340 km deep.

“What we found is that there is a clear difference between the western side of Singapore and the eastern side, across the so-called Bukit Timah fault,” said Dr. Lithjoy.

“From the geological evidence, we know that the fault has been active…a long time ago.”

Assistant Professor Wei Shengjie, who was the study’s principal investigator, said the detection of past seismic events was incomplete due to the disparity of earthquake networks in and around Singapore.

“With these new methods, we will be able to find more seismic events, whether they are caused by tectonic faults or human activities,” said Professor Wei.

He added that such data could come in handy as Singapore increasingly looks underground to expand its resources, such as carbon sequestration.




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