Fighting haze: More resources for early warning system

Fighting haze: More resources for early warning system

SINGAPORE - More resources are being poured into enhancing Singapore's haze early warning system, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament on Monday.

To improve its early detection and warning capabilities, the Meteorological Services Singapore (MSS) of the National Environment Agency (NEA) would be using more meteorological data, more computer modelling of images and finer resolution of satellite images.

It will also install more wind sensors.

For a start, it hopes to get feeds from new satellites which have greater resolution as early as next year, said Dr Balakrishnan.

"We need resolution down to about one- to two-kilometre range, to be able to identify a hot spot. The new satellites will also have greater spectral sensitivity, which means you can also see fires at an early stage, maybe even at the underground level," he said.

More wind sensors beyond Singapore's shores would also be needed to provide a more accurate prediction of weather patterns, "whether there will be rain or drought", he added.

Better information such as the speed and direction of the winds would be able to determine how quickly the haze would reach Singapore.

Dr Balakrishnan gave this answer in response to the flurry of queries from MPs on how Singapore could do better in coping with the haze.

Beyond the overview of tackling the problem at the regional level, he also spelt out the steps to improve monitoring as this would help people plan and prepare for their day.

But he cautioned about the difficulties of early warning: "We must not forget that while the fires are beyond our immediate sight, the haze actually only takes a few hours to reach us. This makes early warning very challenging even with perfect knowledge of the ground situation and winds. Under ideal conditions, the longest warning that we can have from the time the smoke emerges from the fire to the time the haze hits us is around six to 10 hours. This helps frame how difficult early warning is."

Noting that it would be impossible to achieve 100 per cent accuracy, the minister added that enhanced capabilities for early detection could improve the precision of forecasts.

The minister also explained his decision not to publish real-time data or raw data instantly during the recent haze crisis, to avoid "the risk of confusion or worse, publishing unverified or inaccurate data".

With accuracy as his primary consideration, he said he found that publishing the 24-hour PSI, the 24-hour rolling average PM2.5 and the three-hour PSI were essential, as the shape of the three-hour PSI graph and that of the one-hour PSI graph were "virtually identical".

Despite not publishing real-time data, Dr Balakrishnan reassured the House that the ministry is monitoring spot-data closely and would intervene when a sudden change is spotted.

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