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Singapore's ready if volcanic ash hits

There are about 120 active volcanoes in the region around Singapore. The last time Singapore's air quality was affected by volcanic ash from an eruption was when Mount Pinatubo erupted in June 1991. 

SINGAPORE: There are about 120 active volcanoes in the region around Singapore.

The last time Singapore's air quality was affected by volcanic ash from an eruption was when Mount Pinatubo erupted in June 1991.

At that time, air quality went into the moderate range of between 57 and 70 for three days from 17-19 June.

But with the possibility of future eruptions in mind, authorities in Singapore are putting in place systems to monitor the impact of volcanic ash.

In February this year, the eruption of Mt Kelud in Java caused flights out of Singapore to five Indonesian cities (Semarang, Solo, Surabaya, Yogyakarta and Bandung) to be cancelled.

And there have been other eruptions close by.

Mount Sinabung, located 650km from Singapore, erupted in 2010 and 2013; Mount Bromo in 2010; and Mount Merapi, the closest to Singapore at 400km away, in 2004 and 2010.

Air quality in Singapore was not affected following these eruptions.

Still, authorities are not taking things for granted.

Dr Benoit Taisne, Assistant Professor at Earth Observatory of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, said: "The closest volcano to Singapore is Merapi in Sumatra, 400 kilometres away.

"We are working in collaboration with our colleagues from Indonesia to have more instruments on the ground to better predict the next eruption, and how violent the eruption will be.

"Since it is the closest one (to Singapore), it is the one mostly likely to inject ashes into the atmosphere that can affect Singapore.

"We need two to three years to have a good monitoring system on the ground, and then we will be capable of understanding the results for the long term."

Fong Peng Keong, director of Pollution Control Department at National Environment Agency (NEA), said: "Back in 1991, the Mount Pinatubo (eruption) actually affected the Singapore's air quality slightly.

"Our PSI actually went into the moderate range. The highest we recorded for three days was about 70.

"In the current context itself, well, the public need not be alarmed because we have the existing sensors in place.

"We have our MET service (Meteorological Service Singapore), which is working closely with research institutions such as Earth Observatory Singapore to get advanced warning.

"All these give us time to know in advance, of how volcanic ash will be affecting Singapore, and should volcanic ash be imminent in Singapore, we will actually put up advisories in regular NEA forums or NEA websites to keep the public well informed.

"Even our PSI will be able to record the changes in the weather in terms of air quality, if such an episode affects us."

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