Looking out my backdoor – Singapore

2012-09-16 15.50.37This is the normal view looking out my backdoor. OK, looking out the lounge room window. The view is out over Chinatown and in the middle distance the new Park Royal Hotel is still under construction.

The area is normally alive with bustle and cooking smells from the many Chinese, Korean and Japanese restaurants in the area.

2013-06-21 08.09.32This morning, however, the view looked like this.

Normally Singapore’s air is as clean as any European, American or Australian citizen (and better than many I would wager). However, during the period of the Southwest Monsoon, the end of the peninsula (Malaysia, Singapore etc) experience dry conditions and prevailing winds from the south-east to south-west. Sumatra is also dry at this time of the year.

So, during the dry spells here and in Sumatra during the Southwest Monsoon, the number of hotspots on Sumatra may increase. The hotspots have two main causes. One is natural fires as that area of Sumatra is apparently rich in peat which will burn and burn under the surface if ignited, much like coal seams can. Burning Mountain in New South Wales is a good example of that and it has been burning for some 6,000 years. Peat, however, is closer to the surface and therefore will give off more smoke to the atmosphere.

The other cause is illegal land clearing to clear natural vegetation to make way for the planting of palm oil trees. This is probably the single main cause of the haze. Interestingly, Indonesia has not signed the S.E. Asia Haze reduction agreement, the only country in the area not to. In fact, today, one of the Indonesian ministers noted that Sumatra sent Singapore oxygen all year so Singaporeans should stop being cry babies about a little smoke. I note that he was in Jakarta when he said that.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) here publishes a 3-hour rolling average of the PSI – the pollution index. The chart below shows yesterdays readings. Note that I have back-calculated the raw hour-by-hour data as well.


The red line is the official published figure. As I am used to from fires in Australia, I note that the smoke level is lowest overnight when fire activity is dampened a little then increases towards the middle of the day. Around 2pm yesterday there was a brief wind shift and an increase in wind strength for a while which caused a drop. As the day progresses, so the levels eventually diminish as well. The NEA also publishes a guideline to public Safety with regards to the haze and notes various warning levels.

As the haze has increased, so has the use of masks by the population and today it seems that it is impossible to buy an N95 surgical mask anywhere in the city-state.

I can only imagine that this is not that far off the London’s Great Smog of 1952 – at least it is drier here and less of the smoke is seeping indoors. Added to that, indoors there are in many cases air-conditioners which have a chance to clean some of the particulates out of the air. Today is shaping up as bad or worse than yesterday.

I hope tomorrow is better.

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