• History in the making: The Creation of the Geochemical Atlas of Brunei Darussalam
History in the making: The Creation of the Geochemical Atlas of Brunei Darussalam

A group of UBD researchers from the Geosciences programme, including a PhD candidate and undergraduate students, led by Associate Professor Dr Basilios Tsikouras, have been working on completing a geochemical atlas for the soils of Brunei Darussalam.

The aim of the project is to identify the chemical composition and the properties of Brunei Darussalam’s soils, which largely affect the agricultural activities in our country, as well as to examine them for potential sources of pollution and/or economic resources.

Geochemistry and the construction of geochemical atlantes have been recently been gaining global attention. Geochemical atlantes are critical to interpret geochemical anomalies and identify potential sources of pollution or investigate economic mineral deposits. Once anomalies are identified, the maps are utilised in various ways apart from agriculture and mineral exploration, like land planning and risk management.

Over the last three years, the UBD research team has collected almost 1,000 soil samples and conducted multiple lab analyses for soil pH, moisture content, grain size analysis and has determined the chemical compositions for 64 elements. The results have been statistically treated to identify the regular range of the elements in the soils of Brunei Darussalam, as well as anomalous values (values which deviate from this range.) High amounts of certain elements are assessed to identify potential risks to public health, or to examine soil remediation and conditions for agricultural production of local farms. Knowledge of the distribution of chemical elements in the soils of Brunei Darussalam is of great importance to both researchers and policy makers, so that proper measures and suitable land management can be performed.

The aims and results of the project are aligned with the aims of Brunei’s Wawasan 2035, in particular to diversify and strengthen the nation’s economic development. In this regard, agriculture has been suggested as the most promising sector to contribute to this aim. The results of this project will be important in ensuring the success of this vision. These geochemical atlantes will aid in identifying potential issues with the agricultural soils in the country, including possible lack of essential elements for the plants, or an excess ofsuch elements which can affect the quality and quantity of produce.

This research project is one of the first of its kind in the region. The successful progress of the project in Brunei Darussalam triggered the International Union of Geological Sciences, which is the global agent of Geosciences, to include Brunei in the “Global Geochemical Baselines Project”, which is in progress and aims to define the geochemical distribution of elements on our planet. Notably, Brunei Darussalam along with Malaysia have been the first ASEAN countries to be accepted into this international project. The first set of results were invited to be presented in an international Conference in Indonesia and in a workshop in China. The project not only contributes to the Global Geochemical Baselines Project but also trains young researchers to be well-equipped in the use of mapping software (such as ArcGIS) and statistical software (R and SPSS), as well as to provide an invaluable research experience for their future careers.

Preliminary results of the research project have been presented to His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien the Sultan dan Yang di Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam during Majlis Ilmu 2018, as well as to Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand during her visit to UBD in 2018. The research is still in progress and is expected to be completed in 2023.

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