Earth tremors in Singapore



There are no records of earthquakes occurring in Singapore, as the island is located outside earthquake zones. However, Singapore does periodically experience low-level earth tremors caused by earthquakes in Sumatra, Indonesia. Occasionally, these tremors may cause buildings to sway, but they are not serious enough to affect the structural integrity of buildings or result in property damage.

Singapore's geography and earthquakes
Singapore is situated outside earthquake zones, and lies away from the margins of tectonic plates.1 The nearest earthquake zone is located in Sumatra, Indonesia, about 400 km away from Singapore.2

Although there are no records of earthquakes occurring in Singapore, earthquakes in Sumatra have induced tremors in Singapore on many occasions.3 Areas in the central and eastern regions of Singapore have generally been more affected by tremors, as they are situated on softer sedimentary materials such as old alluvium and marine clay.4 Areas in the western part of Singapore are situated on harder rock, which has a dampening effect on the seismic waves from earthquakes.5

Generally, Singapore experiences low-level tremors that may cause furniture to move and buildings to sway. These tremors, however, are not serious enough to impact the structural safety of buildings, as the Building and Construction Authority’s (BCA’s) building codes – which are periodically reviewed – dictate that all buildings must be built to withstand vibrations and shocks from earthquakes.6 In 2013, the BCA adopted the Eurocodes, which is a new set of building codes that includes guidelines on ensuring that new buildings are earthquake-resistant.7 Hence, it is highly unlikely that tremors will cause buildings or highways in Singapore to collapse.8

On average, Singapore is affected by tremors from Sumatran earthquakes once or twice a year.9


Earliest recorded earth tremors felt in Singapore
One of the earliest recorded tremors in Singapore’s history occurred on 24 November 1833. A shock that lasted for more than a minute was felt at 8.45 pm, followed by two slighter shocks at 3 am and 4.30 am.10 The shock was more perceptible in Kampong Glam than in the town area, and caused the punkah (a manually operated ceiling fan; derived from a Hindi word) in some houses to move.11

The tremor was caused by a large earthquake in Sumatra, possibly a result of a volcanic eruption.12 Tremors were also felt in Penang and Malacca.13


2004 and 2007 tremors
While tremors are periodic occurrences in Singapore, happening about once or twice a year, more tremors were felt in 2004 and 2007.

In 2004, Singapore experienced four instances of tremors, all resulting from earthquakes in Sumatra. On 22 February, tremors occurred at 2.50 pm and lasted between five and 45 seconds, affecting areas such as Punggol, Tanjong Rhu, Rochor, Bishan, Woodlands, Toa Payoh and Marine Parade.14

On 12 May, tremors affected buildings at Beach Road, Jalan Besar and St George's Lane. The tremors were felt at about 4.30 pm, and lasted about 30 seconds. With the the memory of the nearby Nicoll Highway collapse on 20 April the previous month still fresh in people’s minds and fearing a similar incident, about 200 tenants  evacuated from the shops and offices in Golden Mile Tower and Golden Mile Complex. BCA engineers later reassured tenants that the tremors were caused by a Sumatran earthquake, and had no connection with the Nicoll Highway collapse.15

Tremors were again felt on 25 July as a result of a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Indonesia. Occurring at 10.30 pm, these tremors affected parts of central and eastern Singapore. Police received 37 calls from the public regarding the tremors.16

There were also mild tremors occurring on the morning of 26 December, following the Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami in Sumatra.17 Most Singaporeans were undisturbed by the tremors, which were felt in Tanjong Rhu, Marine Parade, Toa Payoh, Siglap and Meyer Road.18 Police received about 13 calls from the affected areas, but no injuries were reported.19

The year 2007 saw six instances of tremors – two occurring on the same day in March, three in September and one in November – again due to earthquakes in Sumatra.20 The first two instances occurred on 6 March. The first tremor was felt at 11.49 am, followed by a second one at 1.49 pm, caused by a Sumatran earthquake measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale. Thousands of people were evacuated from buildings in many locations across the island, including the Central Business District, Sengkang and Ang Mo Kio.21 Around 1,600 students at St Andrew’s Junior College in Potong Pasir were told to take the remainder of the day off.22 BCA engineers inspected the affected buildings after the tremors, but did not find any damage.23

September 2007 was marked by three instances of tremors, with two occurring on 12 and 13 September. The 12 September tremor occurred at 7.10 pm, and caused thousands of people in Singapore to rush out of offices and homes. The tremor was spawned from a massive 8.4-magnitude earthquake that struck off Bengkulu province in Sumatra, which affected many countries around the region and sparked tsunami warnings.24 The second tremor occurred the next morning and was felt in the Central Business District, Marine Parade, Clementi and Woodlands. It was caused by an earthquake occurring in the same area as the previous one, but with a smaller magnitude of 7.5. The police and Singapore Civil Defence Force received about 500 calls regarding the tremor.25

The third instance of tremor in September – caused by a 6.6-magnitude earthquake in West Sumatra – occurred on 20 September at 4.30 pm, primarily affecting residents in St George’s Lane, Marine Parade and Katong.26

On 25 November at around 10.51 am, there were reports of shocks felt in Kampong Glam, Whampoa, Farrer Road and Katong, caused by a 6.5-magnitude earthquake occurring 175 km from Bengkulu.27

Government initiatives
In 1996, the Meteorological Service Division of the National Environment Agency set up a seismic monitoring network to detect earthquakes in the region and monitor ground movements in Singapore. The network currently consists of eight stations placed around the island to gather relevant data. The data is then transmitted to a central processing system, which integrates the local data with regional information obtained from countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.The data enables scientists to study the crust’s structure and understand how it responds to seismic waves.28

As part of a pilot project in July 2006, the BCA installed tremor sensors in six buildings in eastern and central Singapore to record tremor intensity. An alert in the form of short message service (SMS) is sent to the BCA monitoring system whenever a tremor is recorded. More buildings were subsequently fitted with the tremor sensors.29

Since 2007, tremor sensors have also been installed in Housing and Development Board (HDB) blocks. The HDB would be alerted via a text message whenever a sensor detects seismic vibrations. About 46 blocks have been fitted with these sensors.30


Timeline of selected earth tremors in Singapore
Oct 1837:
Tremors reported were possibly the result of an earthquake in Sumatra, which also brought about a “large wave that broke on the seashore at Teluk Ayer”.31
6 Jan 1843: Earth tremors were reportedly felt “half an hour after midnight” on 6 January 1843.32
16 Jan 1861: A minute-long “earthquake” was felt at 7.30 pm. The shocks were also felt in Malacca and Penang.33
17 May 1892: An earth tremor at 8.15 pm shook buildings, including the Central Police Station and the Tanglin Barracks.34
3 Jun 1909: An earth tremor was felt at 1.45 am; there were at least two distinct shocks.35
26 Jun 1914: The Straits Times reported an earth tremor at Tanjong Rhu.36
31 Jan 1922: An earth tremor was felt at 9 am in Singapore and many parts of the Federated Malay States.37  
7 Feb 1922:
A tremor lasting a few seconds was reportedly felt at Tanjong Katong at 12.15 pm. Johor Bahru also felt the shock.38
28 Jun 1926: Tremors were reported at 10.22 am and 1 pm.39
28 Dec 1935: Tremors were felt at about 10 am at Robinson Road, Teluk Anson in Ipoh, and several towns in Sumatra, possibly due to an earthquake in India.40
13 Jan 1948: A five-second tremor at 10.50 am was reported.41
28 Dec 1948: Strong earth tremors lasting about 30 seconds occurred at around 10.30 pm. These were more strongly felt on the western side of Singapore.42
15 Mar 1952: A 10-second tremor in the southern part of Singapore was reported at around 6.50 pm.43
31 Dec 1962: A tremor lasting a few seconds was reported at 6.35 pm, affecting Telok Kurau, Malay Street and South Canal Road. The tremor was also felt in Kuala Lumpur.44
4 Feb 1971: Tremors occurred at about 11.10 pm, and were felt throughout the island. Lasting about 30 seconds to a minute, the tremors were also felt in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya and Port Swettenham.45
18 Dec 1972: A minor earth tremor at 10.10 pm shook houses in Beach Road and Katong.46
8 Jan 1975: A two-minute tremor was felt in Whampoa Drive, causing about 600 residents from five HDB blocks to run out of their flats.47
23 Apr 1975: A class of students from the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School at Emerald Hill fled from their classroom after feeling an earth tremor at about 10.50 am.48
9 Mar 1977: An earthquake off Sumatra set off strong tremors that were felt in Whampoa, Toa Payoh, Chai Chee and Marine Parade at around 6.55 am.49
20 Aug 1977: A 7.7-magnitude earthquake south of the Indonesian island of Sunbawa struck at about 1.45 pm, setting off several earth tremors, each lasting several seconds.50
17 Nov 1984: Tremors caused by a 7.5-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Sumatra were felt in Toa Payoh, Whampoa, Rochor Road, Amber Road and Marine Parade.51
12 Aug 1986: Tremors – caused by a 5.5-magnitude earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra – at around 1.20 pm led office workers and residents to rush out of high-rise buildings. The tremors were felt in Robinson Road, Raffles Place, Marine Parade, South Bridge Road, Beach Road, Jalan Besar and Toa Payoh.52
2 Jul 1991: A series of tremors caused by a 5.5-magnitude earthquake in West Sumatra occurred at around 1.20 pm, causing many workers to rush out of their offices.53
16 Feb 1994: A 6.5-magnitude earthquake that struck the mountain town of Liwa in Sumatra caused tremors at around 1.15 am. The tremors – lasting between five and 30 seconds – were felt in the central and eastern parts of Singapore.54
11 May 1994: Tremors were felt at about 4.20 pm in the city area, following a 6.0-magnitude earthquake in Sumatra.55
7 Oct 1995: Tremors from a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in the Jambi province in central Sumatra jolted many people out of their sleep at around 2 am.56
29 Mar 2005: An 8.7-magnitude temblor in the Indian Ocean caused strong tremors that were felt by people in many areas of Singapore and affected over 200 buildings.57
30 Sep–1 Oct 2009: Two rounds of tremors occurred: the first at 6.15 pm on 30 September, lasting up to two minutes, and the second at 9.52 am the next day. These were caused by two earthquakes in Sumatra measuring 7.6 and 6.8 respectively on the Richter scale. Tremors were also felt in parts of Malaysia.58
11 Apr 2012: A series of tremors, each lasting two to three minutes, were reported at around 5 pm after an 8.6-magnitude earthquake struck off Indonesia. The tremors shook high-rise buildings and were felt in many areas across Singapore.59




Authors

Vina Jie-Min Prasad & Jaime Koh



References
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26. Tremors from Indon quake felt in Singapore again. (2007, September 21). Today, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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53. Tan, E. (1991, July 3). Mild tremors hit parts of Singapore. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
54. Miller, D. (1994, February 17). I thought building was going to collapse, says Jln Sultan resident. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
55. Tan, O. B. (1994, May 12). Tremors force workers to leave their offices. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
56. Zheng, R. (1995, October 8). Tremor shakes buildings, wakes residents, rattles furniture in many areas. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
57. Sua, T., & Ho, B. (2005, March 30). Panic stations. The Straits Times, p. 41. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
58. Gunasingham, A., Teh, J. L., & Quek, C. (2009, October 2).S’pore feels new quake tremors. The Straits Times, p. 13; Teh, J. L., & Looi, E. (2009, October 1). Sumatra quake: Tremors felt in Singapore and KL. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspapergSG.
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The information in this article is valid as at 14 October 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

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Science and technology>>Earth Science>>Volcanoes and earthquakes
Earthquakes--Singapore
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