How hot and humid Singapore is trying to cool itself

Singapore: The mercury had reached 86 degrees and was climbing. Humidity was recorded at 75 percent. The sun came out of the tall buildings.

fourteen volunteers, six Climate researchers named “Smarty” and a mobile biometeorological cart prepare to take off for a “heat walk” in the downtown area of ​​a Southeast Asian city-state. The volunteers tied devices to measure their heart rate and their skin temperature. Lead researcher Winston Chow visualized the scene as a speck of sweat formed on his forehead.

Mr Chou and his team are part of Cooling Singapore, a multi-institutional project that was launched in 2017 with funding from the Government of Singapore. The project’s current goal is to create a computer model, or “digital urban climate twin”, of Singapore, which will allow policymakers to analyze the effectiveness of various heat mitigation measures before spending money on solutions that may not work. . It is research that the Singapore government hopes can be replicated around the world.

“People have always wondered what is the important component of climate that really affects your discomfort. Is it low wind speed? Is it high air temperature? Is it high radiation from the sun?” Mr. Chou, Associate Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Singapore Management University, said.

“We get a handle on that, it can help a lot with smart urban design at the planning level or with how individuals deal with heat,” he said.

Singapore’s wealth gives it the resources to invest in such high-tech solutions. But researchers say the Southeast Asian state’s geographic location also makes it a good model for others, especially in tropical countries. Located near the equator, the island has year-round temperatures around 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Like the rest of the tropics, it has an added load of high humidity, averaging 84 percent.

The research is particularly relevant when many countries are being slammed by record temperatures. Heat waves have caused deaths, disrupted life and forced thousands to evacuate in Britain, China, Japan and much of Europe.

Scientists warn that the combination of high heat and humidity – known as extreme wet-bulb temperatures – is potentially one of the deadliest consequences of global warming. Constant exposure to high heat and certain ranges of humidity makes it difficult for people to cool their bodies, as they cannot sweat effectively. It can be fatal even for healthy people. Young children and older people are particularly at risk.

“We are very concerned about climate change,” said Zhang Weiji, director of energy and climate policy at the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment. “It’s an existential challenge for us.”

“It is very important for us to keep Singapore livable and to be able to carry on with the activities we have now,” he said.

Critics say there is still much that Singapore can do to slow the potentially devastating effects of climate change. Almost all of its energy supply comes from fossil fuels.and this is home One of the largest oil refining and petrochemical complexes in the world. This encouraged the near-ubiquitous use of the air-conditioner, which Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, once called the most important invention of the 20th century.

But air-conditioners running continuously in the city-state became extremely expensive. about 25 percent of low-income households According to a 2019 government survey, one- or two-bedroom public housing apartments have air conditioners. In 2019, a senior minister said that air-conditioners have become The “larger” proportion of carbon emissions From buildings and houses, the second largest source after the industrial sector.

Gerhard Schmidt, former principal investigator for Cooling Singapore, said the idea for the project began because he asked a group of older residents in 2011 if Singapore had always been that hot. They told him that it never used to be so bad and that they had once seen the morning dew on the grass.

Mr. Schmidt and his team of researchers began investigating what happened. It became clear that urbanization has made Singapore much hotter than before. In recent decades, the government transformed the city-state where Singapore’s natural forests once stood, by building tall skyscrapers, concrete, steel and glass.

This directly contributed to what climate researchers call the “urban heat island” effect, where the difference between the city of Singapore and the forests in the northwestern part of the island can exceed 45 degrees.

In 2017, researchers at Cooling Singapore recommended 86 ways city-states could modify their plan, such as changing the direction of buildings to create air flow and using district cooling systems – which cool the air. To the surrounding buildings rely on cooling water pipes – instead of air-conditioners.

He also said that a good way would be to use reflective paint to reduce the heat. But Peter Krank, a research fellow at Cooling Singapore, said they are expensive, so “the cost-benefit is potentially challenging.”

According to Mr Zhang of the Environment Ministry, prior to cooling off Singapore, the government had not fully identified the biggest factors affecting the heat. It is now able to measure how increasing greening or reducing the number of cars in certain areas may affect temperatures – and change the measures based on the needs of each district.

Previous heat studies generally relied on data obtained from weather stations, which did not fully reflect what people like 23-year-old Rachel Peck felt on the ground.

Sweating from her face, Ms. Peck, a climate researcher, drove a mobile vehicle on the campus of Singapore Management University in downtown Singapore for nearly an hour. Some neighborhoods, especially those devoid of shade, were much hotter than others.

On Bencoolen Street, where tall buildings block the morning sun, the average radiant temperature is – A metric that measures not only air temperature, but also radiation from a person’s surroundings—was 82 degrees. About a third of a mile away, on Queen Street, which was exposed to more sky, it was 127.4 degrees.

“The prevailing hypothesis now is that the presence or absence of shade in a place like Singapore is the key determinant in adjusting to heat exposure,” Mr Chou said. To address this, Singapore has committed Plant one million trees by 2030 And so far more than 388,000 saplings have been planted.

But Mr Chow said it is not only the number that matters, it is also the type of tree, ideally having “umbrellas with maximum shade”. “If you have small trees, like palm trees, it’s not going to cut it,” he said.

One of the volunteers, Shamil Kuruppu, said he had stopped taking the long walks he used to enjoy back in his hometown of Negombo, Sri Lanka. Now, he only works out in an air-conditioned gym.

“I really like it here,” said Mr. Kuruppu, 28. “I only complain about the weather.”

Yulia Dzuban, a research fellow at Cooling Singapore, said one of the scientists’ goals now is to find ways to create “islands of relief” in the city, places where people can feel cool air or air-conditioning after walking. out on a hot day.

Research has found that small changes in urban design and vegetation can create these pleasurable sensations, Ms Djuban said. He said a better understanding of how and when people are exposed to heat could help governments create plans to encourage more people to take public transportation.

For people to change their habits, “we need to think about how to make their experiences more comfortable and more enjoyable,” she said. “Because otherwise, they wouldn’t do it.”

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