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NParks partners OCBC Bank to Create First-of-its-Kind High-Tech Arboretum in Southeast Asia

NParks partners OCBC Bank to Create First-of-its-Kind High-Tech Arboretum in Southeast Asia

  • 20 Jul 2019

Singapore, 20 July 2019 – The National Parks Board (NParks) and OCBC Bank today unveiled plans for the OCBC Arboretum, a first-of-its-kind high-tech arboretum in Southeast Asia which houses more than 2,000 specimens of over 200 species of Dipterocarps. For the first time in the region, an Internet of Things (IoT) system will be deployed in an arboretum to remotely and continuously monitor the trees and their environment as they grow. This information will help arborists and ecologists understand the conditions required for the healthy growth of Dipterocarp trees, further strengthening the Gardens’ role as a world-class botanical garden and a premier research, conservation and botanical institution. It will also enhance our capabilities in restoring our tropical forests both in Singapore and the region. The OCBC Arboretum is situated in the 8-hectare extension to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, along Gallop Road.


OCBC Bank will also fund the Forest Discovery Centre @ OCBC Arboretum, a knowledge centre for conservation housed in Singapore’s first black and white bungalow. This is done through NParks-registered charity and IPC the Garden City Fund. This initiative is the most significant addition to OCBC Bank’s partnership with NParks to date. The first partnership was a S$250,000 five-year habitat enhancement project at Coney Island Park in 2017.


Chairman of the Garden City Fund Professor Leo Tan said, “NParks is glad to have OCBC on board with us for this project. As the first arboretum of its kind in the application of technology in Southeast Asia, the OCBC Arboretum marks a significant milestone in NParks’ efforts to use technology to enhance greenery management and research. Data gathered from the research will guide our management of greenery both locally and in the region. Locally, application of such data model and environmental sensor data to analyse tree management scenarios will enhance arborists’ ability to make timely interventions and carry out the necessary mitigating measures. We hope that OCBC’s support will inspire more organisations to join us in our efforts to further research and conserve our flora and fauna for future generations.”

Group CEO of OCBC Bank, Mr Samuel Tsien said, “The outcomes of global warming and climate change that we face today are the unfortunate results of many centuries of human beings’ neglect of our responsibility to balance between economic advancement and protecting our natural environment. We are pleased to announce today our most exciting partnership with NParks – the setting up of an arboretum. Many of these tree species are critically endangered due to deforestation and natural loss. By planting a living collection of trees and investing in technology to understand the conditions for better growth, we hope to ensure the survival of these trees and mitigate the impact of climate change.


Leveraging technology in the Arboretum

The OCBC Arboretum is a first-of-its-kind arboretum in the region in its use of technology. A unique monitoring system, the Ecological Network of Tree Sensors (ENTS) is deployed in the Arboretum. The system tracks three main parameters – the environment that the trees are exposed to, their growth and their health – and employs IoT, environmental sensors and remote sensing (LiDAR and multispectral imagery) to do so.


Environmental Sensors

The environment crucially influences the physiological processes of trees and can have a major impact on their survival and growth rates. Mature trees are often also sensitive to a particular set of environmental conditions, having adapted to the same conditions since they were seeds. As a result, trees are vulnerable to stress caused by changes in environmental conditions due to deforestation or climate change. Through the use of a network of weather stations, linked together by IoT, researchers will be able to obtain detailed, continuous data on the environmental conditions within the Arboretum.


LiDAR & Multispectral imaging

To understand how a tree responds to its environment, NParks will tap on remote sensing and modelling tools such as Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) and multispectral imagery to track tree growth and tree health. LiDAR uses lasers to rapidly create high-resolution 3D models of physical objects, allowing for measurements of the object to be taken efficiently and effectively. Similarly, multispectral imaging uses a special camera that captures the different wavelengths of light that are reflected off an object. This yields information about the composition of the object which are not discernible by the naked eye.


The ENTS will employ LiDAR to generate 3D models of each tree in the OCBC Arboretum at 3-month intervals. This information will help arborists better understand how the trunks and branches of the trees develop over time, which can be applied to grow stronger trees with sturdier branches in the future. It will also tap on multispectral imagery to build indicators of health based on the wavelengths of light reflected off the trees’ leaves. This information can be used to build sensor systems to rapidly detect trees that may require intervention to ensure that they are in optimal health.


Digitalisation in Arboriculture

The application of the IoT system to the Arboretum marks a significant milestone in NParks’ five-year digitalisation roadmap. Announced in 2018, the roadmap consolidates all of NParks technology initiatives into a holistic framework to further achieve our biophilic City in a Garden vision.


Today, NParks uses data models and environmental sensor data to analyse tree management scenarios that translate to timely interventions for the trees along our streetscapes. NParks has developed the Tree Structural Model which incorporates data from applications such as the Finite Element Model, 3D Tree Model and the 360° inclinometer to project the stability of trees under different wind speeds using real-time inputs of tree parameters. We can then model the effects of pruning on tree stability. Eventually, the use of IoT, LiDAR and multi-spectral imaging on all urban trees will allow us to remotely manage trees more efficiently and at a larger scale.


Using the results from the Arboretum, we will also be able to better understand how trees respond to environmental conditions and predict how they grow. Some examples are growing conditions which might make a tree develop a lusher crown or the effects of wind on the stability of a tree. This will enable to us to adapt our overall tree management strategies in accordance with changes in weather patterns to achieve more resilient trees.


Dipterocarps are the backbone of Southeast Asian tropical forests

Dipterocarps are hardwood trees that occur in tropical forests all over the world. Southeast Asia has the highest diversity, with over 500 described species. They grow to be some of the tallest trees in the region’s forests and comprise up to 50% - 80% of the forest canopy, shaping the landscape and creating habitat for various other plants and wildlife. Many species of Dipterocarps are threatened by deforestation and illegal logging. Yet, much still remains to be discovered about their diversity and growth habits.


As a repository of Dipterocarps of the region, it is important for us to understand the environmental preferences of different species of Dipterocarps. In the face of climate change, such information will help us to better manage Dipterocarps, both in an urban and a forested setting as well as on a regional platform.


Besides guiding us in our tree management practices, understanding the conditions required for their growth and health will also enable us to restore the secondary forests in nature parks and other disturbed areas to approximate maturity in time, as part of our Forest Restoration Action Plan. This is done through understanding how native Dipterocarps adapt to local climate conditions and applying that knowledge to shape the reforestation and re-introduction plans for Dipterocarps in to our nature areas. The seeds produced from these trees will also be propagated for reforestation.


Visitors to the Forest Discovery Centre @ OCBC Arboretum will get to learn more about the ecology of Singapore’s forests through interpretative displays and how they can be involved in NParks’ conservation efforts. The Arboretum, in addition to being an in-situ research site, will serve as an outdoor classroom, complementing the outreach efforts of the interpretive centre. Situated within the Tyersall-Gallop Core of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, it is an accessible location for students to learn about how technology can be applied in environmental science and forest ecology. We are also working with students from the Singapore Scouts Association and OCBC staff volunteers on programmes that will allow them to be involved with the research. This includes taking measurements of the Dipterocarps which will be compared with the data collected remotely, providing another platform for citizen science.


To mark the occasion, Second Minister for National Development and Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee and OCBC Group CEO Mr Samuel Tsien planted a Shorea gratissima at the Arboretum. Also present were about 180 OCBC staff and their families who planted 160 trees from 54 different species (Refer to Annex for full species list).


Video about the OCBC Arboretum: click here


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Heng Yi Shi