New Centre of Excellence to boost Singapore’s coastal protection measures and flood resilience

The Coastal Protection and Flood Resilience Institute (CFI) Singapore – the first Centre of Excellence in Singapore dedicated to strengthening local capabilities and expertise in coastal protection and flood management research and solutioning – was officially launched at NUS by Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Ms Grace Fu on 7 September 2023.

Hosted at NUS, CFI Singapore is a key pillar under PUB’s S$125 million Coastal Protection Research Programme and brings together local universities, research institutes, and the industry to carry out research projects to advance core domain knowledge and develop innovative solutions customised for Singapore. The four partner institutes of CFI Singapore are: Nanyang Technological University, Singapore University of Technology and Design, Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

Professor Richard Liew, Head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering under the NUS College of Design and Engineering, will oversee CFI Singapore’s research activities and lead the management team.

As the host institution, NUS will contribute resources and expertise across the university to support the new institute. CFI Singapore can draw on the University’s research talents and facilities in Ocean Infrastructure and Renewables, Resilient Infrastructure and Climate Change Mitigation. In addition, research institutes on campus, such as the NUS Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions (CNCS) and the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI), will also contribute towards this national initiative.

“CFI Singapore will seek to strengthen connections with industry partners and international institutes. It will engage in dialogues with policy makers, planners and experts from cities and regions on how they are tackling climate change, in particular, what they are doing to prevent and deal with floods and rising sea levels. This is an opportunity for Singapore to learn, as well as to contribute to the global knowledge and experience base,” said NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye at the launch event, which was attended by over 200 researchers, students, and industry professionals. 

Climate change – Impact on Singapore

Singapore is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels and intense rainfall, due to its geographical location and low-lying land area. It is projected that Singapore will experience a rise in daily temperatures by 1.4 to 4.6 Degrees Celsius, more intense and frequent heavy rainfall events, as well as a rise of sea levels of up to one metre by the end of the century.

These climate change events can greatly affect our resources, biodiversity and have implications on public health, making it all the more pressing for Singapore to build a line of defence through research to come up with effective and innovative solutions to protect Singapore’s coastlines from rising sea levels and manage flooding during heavy downpours.

A multi-institutional establishment, CFI Singapore will harness the collective expertise and extensive resources across various partners to address these pressing challenges.

“PUB believes that a vibrant research and development ecosystem will be a catalyst to spur local capability and human capital development,” said Mr Goh Si Hou, PUB Chief Executive.

“Our aim is to foster collaboration and teamwork so that collectively, our research efforts can be more than the sum of our parts. And it is our hope that we will continue to foster the spirit of collaboration as we work together and meet this critical challenge for Singapore. As all of us understand that coastal protection and flood resilience will be a long-term endeavour for Singapore and to achieve our goals we do need a strong and sustained pipeline of talent not only in research, but also in the industry,” added Mr Goh.

Elaborating on the key priorities of CFI Singapore, Prof Liew said, “The challenges we face are unprecedented, so should our solutions. It is with this understanding that we place a strong emphasis on use-inspired research, working to develop solutions that are not only practical but also resonate well with the needs of the communities we serve. By actively engaging with our industry partners and local communities, we can develop strategies tailored to the unique challenges of each coastal region.”

Talents needed for the ‘Little Red Dot’ to shine brightly in green

In conjunction with the launch of CFI Singapore, Ms Fu engaged in a lively dialogue with Professor Vladan Babovic, a leading scientist in the field of hydroinformatics from NUS Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Advisor (Strategy, Partnerships & Technology Transfer) of CFI Singapore, as well as Mr James Lam, Managing Director for Coastal Engineering of Surbana Jurong.

The session, themed “Nurturing talent in coastal protection and flood management”, was moderated by Ms Celine Teo (extreme left), Senior Assistant Director, PUB.

Ms Fu opened the panel discussion by highlighting the importance of protecting Singapore’s coastlines and building up flood resilience to protect Singapore’s livelihoods, biodiversity and landscapes. She shared how these are “important issues for us to look ahead and take action today” to find innovative solutions to protect Singapore’s coastline and build flood resilience to ensure that our way of life can continue even during drastic climate change events.

“It is very important for our whole beating heart of the region to continue beating even with extreme weather events,” added Ms Fu.

The panellists highlighted that ensuring effective coastal protection measures and building flood resilience for Singapore goes beyond engineering expertise, and requires the skills and knowhow from various domains - from design to ecology - to come up with sustainable and innovative solutions.

Another point brought forth during the dialogue was the importance of academic institutions collaborating with industry partners to translate research into real-world applications. Ms Fu noted that collaborations should not be confined to universities. Instead, it should involve industry partners because, “it is about bringing solutions from the lab to real life situations”.

Multi-disciplinary research focus areas

For a start, CFI Singapore has awarded nine research projects focusing on four research areas: coastal science research; monitoring, prediction and digitalisation of coastal environment; integrated nature-based solutions; and innovative engineering solutions. Keeping in line with a collaborative research ecosystem CFI Singapore hopes to achieve, each research project will involve several collaborators drawn from local and foreign universities and key industry partners.

An example of one such project includes a multi-disciplinary team from three NUS research units – CNCS, TMSI and the Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine, Singapore – together with applied knowledge institute Deltares and engineering firm Delta Marine Consultants from The Netherlands. Researchers will study the efficacy of hybrid nature-based solutions, such as perched beaches with seagrass, mangroves on rock revetments, for coastal protection.

Another project involves researchers from NUS, SIT and industry collaborators such as engineering consultancy Surbana Jurong. The project focuses on developing modular solutions that are adaptable in response to changing climate and rising sea levels.

Grooming future generations of researchers and professionals

CFI Singapore and its partner institutes aim to grow a vibrant research ecosystem and expand the talent pool of researchers and professionals in coastal protection and flood management through educational programmes, workforce training programmes, and scientific seminar series.

These programmes will be offered by the institute’s partner institutions, with NUS offering a Master of Science Programme specialising in Sustainable Climate Resilience, a Graduate Certificate Programme in Coastal Protection and Flood Management, and another Graduate Certificate Programme in Digital Water.

“Education and training will be critical outputs of the institute. CFI Singapore will identify programmes across the partner institutes that can be tapped into to develop the multi-faceted, interdisciplinary talent we need,” explained Prof Liew.

The launch of CFI Singapore heralds a transformative journey for Singapore in coastal protection and flood management. Expressing his confidence in the fledgling institute, Prof Tan said, “CFI Singapore will contribute to continuing the Singapore story of overcoming challenges and constraints, building a stronger and more resilient and sustainable Singapore for the future.”

The event coincides with NUS Sustainability CONNECT, which is a five-week long outreach programme that showcases the University’s research and innovation, education, campus operations, and student engagement in sustainability and the fight against climate change.