ONE of Dr Azlinda Saadon’s fondest memories from her childhood was of having fun with her siblings at the Gunung Ledang waterfall during family vacations.

With parents who both studied earth sciences and engineering geology at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia when they were younger, it was only natural that their love of nature ― particularly in rivers, lakes, seas and rainfall ― rubbed off on to her.

“Water is the most essential part in daily life.. I value it tremendously. If we look into the teachings of Islam, the creation of every living thing began with a drop of water. Malaysia, currently facing incremental water demands from its growing population year on year, require the efficient management of freshwater sources to ensure their sustainability for future generations,” said the Infrastructure University Kuala Lumpur (IUKL) lecturer.

Azlinda recently won the Best PhD Thesis award at the opening of World Water Day 2018 in Kuala Kangsar, Perak recently.

Her thesis titled “Streambank Erosion Prediction using Empirical Models for Natural River Channels” focused on the factors governing streambank erosion, which lead to major scouring and a higher potential for natural disasters such as riverbank collapse and landslides.

“Streambank erosion is one of the complex problems in river engineering studies as it requires integration from various fields of engineering. Due to its complexity, it is commonly associated with river meandering initiation and development, river width adjustment and river plan-form evolution. It requires integration between soil and water to appropriately understand the factors that constitute streambank erosion and its impact of major scouring.

“This study was undertaken to investigate the factors that cause streambank erosion and to quantify the rate of erosion in susceptible areas.

“By studying the significant causes of streambank erosion, one can factor it into the river morphological future prediction. This will be useful in providing information such as adequate river corridor lengths for the river to maintain its equilibrium,” Azlinda explained.

Her interest in learning about river morphology, which describes the shapes of river channels and how they change in shape and direction over time, began during her undergraduate days as a civil engineering student at Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia for her diploma and then Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) for her bachelors degree.

“I was exposed to fieldwork investigation in the final year of my bachelor’s degree, which was on river engineering, focusing on the erosion and sedimentation process. The river used to be my playground in collecting data such as river velocity, discharge, cross-sectional area as well as the river bed materials. The experience conducting fieldwork built the confidence and enhanced my skills in handling equipment and uncertainties in weather conditions, especially during rainy seasons,” said Azlinda.

For her PhD thesis, Azlinda was supervised by Professor Dr Junaidah Ariffin who is an expert in river engineering, hydraulics, river morphology, fluvial geomorphology, hydrology and water resources-related fields.

“She has been serving UiTM for more than 20 years, and her consultancy experience in water related projects made her one of the best in this field. My dreams came true when she accepted my PhD proposal and agreed to be my supervisor.

“If I could share one piece of advice with friends and family who want to pursue their studies, I would tell them that one of the factors of a successful doctorate candidate would be the selection of supervisor. The best supervisor should be an expert with strong foundation in the fundamental aspects in the field of study of the doctorate,” she shared.

Dr Azlinda walking away with a certificate and cash prize of RM 1,150.

For Azlinda’s PhD thesis, fieldwork investigation techniques, erosion pin arrays and streambank vertical profiling techniques were used in the quantification of streambank erosion rates.

Her study included the development of the newly streambank erosion expression using three techniques, namely, Statistical Approach, Nonlinear Autoregressive Exogenous (NARX) model, and Artificial Neural Network (ANN).

The empirical models in predicting streambank erosion rates developed in the study would be an invaluable tool and good guidance for supporting streambank monitoring in areas susceptible to erosion.

“One of the significant contributions of this thesis is the method of measurements used in measuring the magnitude of erosion. Sungai Bernam and Sungai Lui were chosen to be the important locations in monitoring the streambank erosion for this study. The streambank erosion monitoring sites, chosen based on physical observations in the pilot study, indicate occurrence of streambank failure in terms of fluvial and mass wasting.

“Establishment of reliable predictive models with regards to streambank erosion can minimise the impact due to scouring at existing infrastructures such as bridge piers or abutments, which further lead to landslides and river bank collapse,” said Azlinda.

Other than lecturing at IUKL, Azlinda is also the coordinator (Training and Publication Unit) for the university’s Geo Disaster Research Centre (I-GEO).

Officially launched in December, 2013,

I-GEO strives to become the main reference centre in geo-disaster research not only in Malaysia but the world at large. Geo refers to the discipline knowledge of earth science. Thus, I-GEO has developed its expertise in landslides, erosion, flooding, sedimentation, environmental disasters and many others, which are related to earth science.

“Working with I-GEO has been my passion. Our nation has endured difficult times; from extreme climate to odd climate phenomena recently. These changes have brought about tremendous effects and created various hazards. The main focus of this centre is to predict of those hazards and propose a real-time monitoring approach, which can benefit the government and policy makers in the future,” Azlinda explained.

Her role as the coordinator for training and publication at I-GEO allows her to enhance her research capabilities into projects and consultancy on water resources. She is also involved in the coordination of the annual publication, namely the I-GEO Newsletter and organising seminars, professional talks and technical workshop series.

“This year’s World Water Day with its theme Nature for Water explores how we can use nature to overcome the water challenges in the 21st century. In Malaysia, our daily water consumption per capita is rated high, amounting to 210 litres per capita a day. This consumption rate is 27 per cent higher than what is recommended by the World Health Organization.

“Looking into this aspect, one of the most important steps in making water resources sustainable is to reduce our daily consumption needs. Education and awareness is the key to ensuring water resource sustainability. Beneficial use of water resources is not just for drinking but also for industry, agriculture and recreation.

“Water and wastewater management must be viewed in the natural water cycle context. If Malaysia can embark on this process and continue it with future generations, the management of water resources in Malaysia will be more efficient in providing for future needs,” she said.

Velocity measurement during fieldwork sampling.