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S’pore temperatures rising at double the global average

SINGAPORE — Over the past six decades, temperatures here have risen at a rate more than double that of the global average, with rapid urbanisation cited as a likely major contributing cause, the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) said on Tuesday (March 22).

S’pore temperatures rising at double the global average

Singapore's temperature has increased at twice the global rate in the last few decades. Photo: Don Wong/TODAY

SINGAPORE — Over the past six decades, temperatures here have risen at a rate more than double that of the global average, with rapid urbanisation cited as a likely major contributing cause, the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) said on Tuesday (March 22).

Releasing its inaugural Annual Climate Assessment Report with a focus on last year’s climate trends, the MSS said temperatures in the Republic rose by an average of 0.25°C per decade between 1948 and last year, compared with the global increase of 0.12°C per decade between 1951 and 2012.

Meanwhile, the blistering heat is showing no signs of abating, with the MSS forecasting that the warm weather will persist for another month or two. The Republic can also expect more warm days, with maximum temperatures of between 33°C and 35°C.

Nevertheless, the prevailing El Nino phenomenon — the warm phase of a temperature cycle in the tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean — is tapering gradually and is expected to weaken further around the middle of this year.

Commenting on the rise in temperatures here, the MSS said it cannot be ascribed solely to warming brought about by the emission of greenhouse gases; human activity is also a contributing factor.

It singled out land-use change, such as urbanisation, as a key example that “can impact temperatures … (and) is likely to have played a significant role in Singapore”.

(Click to enlarge)

Climate experts interviewed by TODAY concurred that the rapid pace of urban growth here is likely to have had a role in sending temperatures on an upward trajectory.

Associate Professor Matthias Roth, deputy head of the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Geography, said built-up areas in Singapore have approximately doubled since the 1950s to accommodate a fast-growing population.

“As vegetation is turned into concrete and paved surfaces, the incoming energy from the sun is stored in man-made structures during daytime and released at night, thereby increasing local temperatures,” he said, adding that this “urban heat island effect” is a well-known phenomenon that also explains the trend towards warmer nights.

The MSS report also noted shifts in the frequency of “extreme high and low temperatures” here. From 1972, the country has experienced a rise in the number of warm days and nights, and conversely, a decrease in the number of cool days and nights, the 
report said.

Last year alone, there were 127 warm days (34.1°C or higher) and 153 warm nights (26.4°C or higher). By contrast, there were 17 cool days (29.2°C or lower) and 21 cool nights (22.4°C or lower).

Assistant Professor Massimo Lupascu, also from NUS’s Department of Geography, pointed out that when concrete replaces vegetation, evaporation — which absorbs energy and keeps an area cool — also decreases.

“As there is more evaporation happening in parks, forests and rural areas, these are normally cooler than cities,” he said.

Asst Prof Winston Chow, who works in the same department at NUS, said Singapore’s position in a region that is more heavily “exposed to changes in regional weather due to El Nino events” is another factor for the sharper temperature increases.

Still, that greenhouse-gas emissions are largely behind rising temperatures worldwide must not be ignored, he added. “When you urbanise, you use a lot of fossil-fuel energy that contributes to the greenhouse-gas problem. So you have a double whammy.”

Earlier this year, it was reported that last year was one of Singapore’s hottest on record, joining 1997 and 1998 as the warmest years, with an annual mean temperature of 28.3°C.

Last year was also the second-driest for the Republic, with 1,266.8mm of rainfall recorded, trailing behind 1997, the driest year on record, when 1,118.9mm of rainfall was registered. Most parts of the country received below-average rainfall — measured against the average rainfall between 1981 and 2010.

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