Two emails about the haze to my LSM2251 Ecology and the Environment students

Tuesday 15 Sep 2015

“Dear ecology students,

as per MOH and NUS guidelines, please be informed to suspend your field trips if haze pollutant levels are greater than 100psi. You can monitor haze conditions by checking NEA Haze webpage and the Air Quality Index webpage or by using the MyENV App on iTunes or Google Play.

A typical field trip lasts at least 3-hours which I consider “prolonged exposure” which we are to reduce in conditions above 100psi. Furthermore, if you have respiratory-linked medical issues, or are already experiencing discomfort, you should be resting.

If hazy conditions persist or are predicted to persist into late September and October, I will inform the class about alternative plans for the symposium.

FYI, in a similar vein last night, Organisers of the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore were advised to suspend their cleanup events this Saturday. Read the post to appreciate the reasons and see the MOH poster you can circulate.

Meanwhile, please read the guidelines and be informed, and protect yourself, friends and family.

All the best!


Sivasothi aka Otterman”

Tuesday 22 Sep 2015

“Dear ecology students,

there have been very few mornings with haze pollutant readings safe enough for you to work in the field. predictions suggest haze levels will remain high during Recess Week. There is also little expectation of the haze clearing until the monsoon arrives, probably in mid-October.

I have thus decided to cancel the LSM2251 symposium project work this semester.

I will design alternative practicals for your practical sessions and decide how to reallocate the CA weightage. If you have borrowed equipment from the lab, please return it by the end of Week 7.

This decision was not easily made. After some extensive examination of the literature, predictions are not available about the persistence of the haze or of actions on the ground in Sumatra. Furthermore, scientists have warned of severe short and long-term impact from fine particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter in the environment (PM2.5).

While we have been looking forward to your independent exploration of ecology, we must prioritise your health.

Meanwhile, see what some Singaporeans are trying to do about the haze:

All the best, and stay safe,


Sivasothi aka Otterman”

Cancelling the 11th LSM2251 Ecological Observations in Singapore symposium

More plans foiled by the haze – last Tuesday (15 Sep 2015), I told my LSM2251 Ecology and the Environment students working on their Ecological Observations in Singapore Symposium projects to suspend field trips when haze pollutants levels were too high, as specified by NUS guidelines.

Since then, there have been very few hours available for adequate field observations. I spent the week in even closer monitoring of NEA’s 1-hr PM2.5 (µg/m3) readings and AQI predictions, and during this time updated the Haze Advisory to Coastal Cleanup Organisers (had them consult hourly PM2.5 (µg/m3) readings), and eventually I also cancelled the 19 Sep 2015 cleanup which we had spent months planning for.

Precise predictions about the persistence of the haze or of strategic action on the ground in Sumatra are not available. And scientists warn of severe short and long-term impact from fine particles in the environment less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5). There will be students who will risk the haze to complete the symposium projects. Last Saturday, six organisations wanted to press ahead in unfavourable haze conditions, forcing me to cancel ICCS altogether.

Thus I issued an email to students this afternoon, cancelling the 11th LSM2251 Ecological Observations in Singapore symposium. And told them about

Oh well, safety first.

Now to think of alternative practicals.

The MOH Haze Health Advisory poster and conservative advise for coastal cleanup Organisers

Here is the MOH Haze Health Advisory poster which summarises their guidelines. Various other ministries and institutions adopt these, as does NUS, and might provide specifics or precise advise relevant to their situation.

The fundamentals are all here.

But do read the language carefully. For example, in conditions greater than 100psi, the recommendation for healthy people is to “reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion”. To me, the word prolonged is enough to rule out the typical coastal cleanup activity which lasts at least three hours from departure to site. Strenuous covers any mangrove cleanup.

Furthermore, the MOH guidelines comes with this caveat: “While the health advisory provides general precautionary advice, each individual’s reaction to pollutants may vary. The amount of physical activity or exertion that can be performed also differs according to an individual’s health status or capacity. ”

Yes individual response varies, and this is a critical to realise.

Allergic rhinitis is known to be common enough amongst children in Singapore and may persist amongst undergraduates. Keeping them out of the haze even in low psi values (50-100) seem like common sense. Teachers in schools are prepared and in really bad conditions, some have plans to hem students into air-conditioned halls and somehow continue with school! Amazing!

Many stressed adults also suffer from allergic rhinitis, and have a tough time of it when haze values are persistently maintained at 50-100 psi for days.

As coordinator of the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, I mulled over this at the first sign of the haze three weeks ago. Read, consulted, observed and decided to adopt a conservative approach when I emailed some 70 Organisers of varying capability and site difficulty who organise some 3,700 volunteers.

Our practise all these 24 years of the ICCS has been to rank safety above all else,so the ICCS Haze Advisory for Organisers was entitled, “At air quality readings above 100psi, please consider cancelling your event!” And if we were dealing with levels below 100psi, despite the MOH recommendation to continue with normal activities, volunteers already experiencing discomfort, however mild, should be advised to rest instead.

I informed the international coordinator at Ocean Conservancy to say Singapore might not be sending them a bundle of data this year due to the haze. We did not experience a haze-out in 1997 or any other year, but we did experience a wash-out in 1998 – Organisers then sensibly cleared the beach due to a massive storm and we cheered them when they wrote to explain.

Similarly, this was a no brainer.

Now all we can do is hope for clear skies like the rest of Singapore. And perhaps a little more: this local campaign hopes to rectify the problem of the haze at the source, through consumer action, a very powerful tool indeed: – take a look and play a part.

Stay healthy everyone!

No sign of Bukit Timah hill, all swallowed
by the rain-enhanced haze of Mon 14 Sep 2015: ~1800h

Bukit TImah in rain enhanced haze

Wed 16 Sep 2015: 8.00pm @ Hackerspace SG – “On Trails Through Jungles and Poetry”

Get to know some local writers and nature guides with a great love for the nature in Singapore – they speak at Hackerspace SG this Wednesday 16 Sep 2015 at 8.00pm. Registration details on Facebook.

Love Macritchie guides from NUS Toddycats, Chloe Tan and Sean Yap share some of the amazing biodiversity that we have right here in our backyard in the MacRitchie forest and about the threats that nature faces.

Next is the team behind the book, “From Woodlands to Walden, an interfaith anthology of writing about nature in Singapore.” They explore the relationship we have with our environment, providing the opportunity to explore Singapore through “reading trails”.

Wed 16 Sep 2015: 6.00pm – Mark McDonnell on “The Role of the Science of Urban Ecology in Creating … Liveable Cities”

Mark McDonnell (Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Urban Ecology) is currently teaching a class on urban ecology and design for the Master of Landscape Architecture at NUS.

He will be giving a guest lecture “The Role of the Science of Urban Ecology in Creating Green, Healthy, Resilient and Liveable Cities in the Future” on Wed 16 Sep 2015: 6.00pm at Dept. of Architecture’s LR423 (SDE 03-04). To register, visit this link.

Walking the Southern Ridges, gradually

The Southern Ridges is a lovely feature to have in the NUS backyard and I use it for the LSM1103 Biodiversity classes from NUS to Bukit Chandu over the Gap. That is a short walk of about 4km and I’ve encouraged students to walk to Harbour Front on their own, which is 8.5km away.

Last June, Catherine Chua at the University Health Centre had her staff ask me about introducing a nature element into walks for wellness, Having experienced my old MacRitchie – Bukit Timah briskwalk, she wanted to inject a nature element into their series of NUS Walks.

Since their target is the deskbound and mostly immobile office worker, I’ve suggested we try a series of walks over an increasing distance, which the Southern Ridges provide. It will be chance for camaraderie, sustainability, wellness, nature and some spatial awareness. And we have already have a few volunteers walk leaders on board from the Office of Environmental Sustainability (OES), Department of Biological Sciences (DBS), Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) and Ridge View Residential College (RVRC).

We need to recruit ambassadors to the programme, and top of the list is former Infantry Officer Seah Kar Heng who hikes all over the country, and NUS President Tan Chor Chuan who is regularly seen at Bukit Timah.

We will begin with the ~2km walk in campus next year and take it from there, slow and steady. Beyond the Southern Ridges, I am looking forward to returning to MacRitchie for the brisk walk to Bukit Timah one day, with the company of some fit NUS walkers!

Southern Ridges  gradual distances

RVRC takes a sustainability pledge

RVRC Fellow architect Sadaf Andari’s 1st lecture in NUS @ LT25 for GEM1917 Understanding & Critiquing Sustainability!


RVRC students discover they have to walk the talk – adopt and track a new sustainability habit from this week!


RVRC staff will take a sustainability pledge alongside their students! Just one act, however easy, it’s a start!


NUS RVRC’s staff and students embark on a sustainability pledge and will track their’s and group members progress!


Sadaf Andari asks GEM1917 sustainability students, “Ready to change the world?” And they said, “YES!” #rvrcpledge


Less agitation from late night screens with f.lux, and newly updated too!

Computer screens apparently are designed to look like the sun and that is out of sync at the strange times at which many of us are still working. I’ve been using f.lux at least since 2011 to automatically make my Mac’s display warm at night and limit the blues. I tried it to help me sleep better as I am typically up well after midnight.

NewImageThere have been some tweaks I have wished for in passing and today I learnt that f.lux for Mac issued an update which includes:

  1. Dim on disable It’s always been painful to disable f.lux for a color check or late-night design work, so we’ve provided a new option that dims your screen (a lot) when you disable. Check out the “Options” menu for this feature.
  2. Backwards alarm clock – “How much sleep will I get if I go to bed now?” Ha-ha, sweet!
  3. Faster transition to daylight instead – because we are so impatient to get going and our Macs need to keep up! Also, night-time and early morning transitions are longer – this used to be a little too abrupt for me, nice fix!

Like their URL says, just justgetflux!