History in the making: The creation of the Geochemical Atlas of Brunei Darussalam


Geochemistry and the construction of geochemical atlantes have been gaining attention globally. 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.

 

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

 

The research team collecting soil samples at Bukit Shahbandar with Dr Basilios Tsikouras of the Geosciences programme.

 

Over the last 3 years, the research team has collected almost 1,000 soil samples and has conducted multiple lab analyses such as soil pH, moisture content, grain size analysis and has determined the chemical compositions for 64 elements. The results are statistically treated to identify the regular range of the elements in the soils of Brunei Darussalam, as well as the anomalous values: the 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 condition for agricultural production of local farms. Knowledge of the distribution of chemical elements in the soils of Brunei Darussalam is of great importance for both researchers and policy makers in order to take proper measures and perform suitable land management.

 

Our student researchers collecting soil samples with the hand-held auger.

 

Our aims and results are aligned with the aims of Wawasan Brunei 2035 (or the Brunei Vision 2035), such as to diversify and strengthen the nation’s economic development. In this regard, agriculture was 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. Our geochemical atlantes will aid in identifying potential issues with the agricultural soils in the country: lack of an essential element for the plants, or an excess of it which affects the quality and quantity of the produce.

 

Map of soil pH in Brunei-Muara District. The map shows lower pH (acidic) soils around more urbanised areas of the district and a more neutral pH of soils around agricultural regions of the district.

 

Map showing the distribution of mercury (Hg) in the soil of Brunei-Muara District.

 

Brunei Darussalam is a pioneer in ASEAN and Southeast Asia, as 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 it 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 are 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 HM the Sultan dan Yang di Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam during Majlis Ilmu 2018, as well as to HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand during her visit in UBD. The research is in progress and it is expected to be completed in 2 years.