Singapore tops World's light-pollution list

The Marina Bay skyline taken from The Esplanade. Singapore was named the most light polluted country in the world in a recent study published last week.
PHOTO: The New Paper

Children in Singapore will probably never get to experience the beauty of the Milky Way, thanks to a little-known environmental disturbance - light pollution.

Singapore was named the country with the worst level of light pollution in the world - with a pollution level of 100 per cent - in a recently published Science Advances study.

The study, The New World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness, said that Singapore's use of artificial light exceeds the level of light pollution tolerable per capita.

"The possibility of seeing the Milky Way from home is precluded to all of Singapore," the study said.

The study's authors, who are from the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute in northern Italy, based the extent of light pollution primarily on how brightly lit the streets of a country are and the percentage of population exposed to the artificial brightness.

Other countries with similar light pollution levels include Kuwait with 98 per cent and Qatar with 97 per cent.

Chad was said to be the least light polluted country, followed by Central African Republic and Madagascar with "more than three-quarters of their inhabitants living under pristine sky conditions".

Dr Christopher Kyba, from the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, told BBC: "The artificial light in our environment is coming from a lot of different things.

"Street lights are a really important component, but we also have lights from our windows in our homes and businesses, from the headlights of our cars and illuminated billboards."

Light pollution washes out starlight, interferes with astronomical research and disrupts ecosystems.

Researchers have also suggested that it can have adverse health effects, particularly on the eyes.

Senior consultant ophthalmologist at Dr Leo Adult & Paediatric Eye Specialist, Dr Leo Seo Wei, 43, tells The New Paper on Sunday: "Excess illumination and constant exposure to different wavelengths and intensities of light may cause retinal degeneration or accelerate genetic retinal diseases."

She explains that the cumulative effect of excessive and constant illumination can speed up eyesight deterioration in the long haul.

"Light acts directly on the retina to fulfil two important roles. First, vision... and second, non-image forming tasks, such as the synchronisation of 24-hour biological rhythm.

"Excessive light can thus reduce the brain's production of melatonin, a hormone which helps to control sleep and wake cycles," she says.

Research has also proven that melatonin levels are linked to both ovulation cycles and cancer.

NO SURPRISE

For astronomy enthusiasts here, the news that Singapore has the worst light pollution comes as no surprise.

Vice-president of The Astronomical Society of Singapore, Mr Albert Lim, 57, says astronomy enthusiasts often go overseas to places such as New Zealand and the US to indulge in their passion if they want to peer deeper into space.

Those who want to do it here have to hunt for areas that are away from buildings and roads that are lit by street lamps.

Fortunately, recent technological advancements in telescopes have made it possible to do deep sky gazing from a highly light-polluted place like Singapore.

"Now, we can use filters to give us a peek at nebulae (interstellar clouds of dust, hydrogen gas, helium gas and plasma)," says Mr Lim. But these do not come cheap.

Telescopes can cost from a few hundred dollars to about three thousand dollars, says Mr Lim. Strap on special filters that help cut through the light pollution, and the cost of the equipment can quickly double.

Says Mr Lim: "If you want to do deep sky gazing from here, that is the only way to do it."

Most light-polluted countries

1. Singapore

2. Kuwait

3. Qatar

4. United Arab Emirates

5. Saudi Arabia

6. South Korea

7. Israel

8. Argentina

9. Libya

10. Trinidad and Tobago

crobert@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 19, 2016.
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