To support its efforts to become climate neutral by 2050, the European Union has launched a Destination Earth initiative to build a detailed digital simulation of the planet that will help scientists map climate development and extreme weather events with high accuracy.
The decade-long project will create a digital twin of the Earth, rendered at one-kilometer scale and based on continuously updated observational data from climate, atmospheric, and meteorological sensors — as well as measures of the environmental impacts of human activities.
Led by the European Space Agency, European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, and European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, the digital twin project is estimated to require a system with 20,000 GPUs to operate at full scale, the researchers wrote in a strategy paper published in Nature Computational Science.
Insights from the simulation will allow scientists to develop and test scenarios, informing policy decisions and sustainable development planning. Dubbed DestinE, the model could be used to assess drought risk, monitor sea level rise, and track changes in the polar regions. It will also be used for strategies around food and water supplies, as well as renewable energy initiatives including wind farms and solar plants.
“If you are planning a two-meter high dike in The Netherlands, for example, I can run through the data in my digital twin and check whether the dike will in all likelihood still protect against expected extreme events in 2050,” said Peter Bauer, deputy director for Research at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts and co-initiator of Destination Earth.
Unlike traditional climate models, which represent large-scale processes and neglect the finer details essential for precise weather forecasts, the digital twin model will bring together both, enabling high-resolution simulations of the entire climate and weather system.
The researchers plan to harness AI to help process data, represent uncertain processes, accelerate simulations, and filter out key insights from the data. The main digital modeling platform is aimed to be operational by 2023, with the digital twin fully developed and running by 2027.
“Destination Earth is a key initiative for Europe’s twin digital and green transitions,” said Thomas Skordas, the European Commission’s director for digital excellence and science infrastructure. “It will greatly enhance our ability to produce climate models with unprecedented detail and reliability, allowing policy-makers to anticipate and mitigate the effects of climate change, saving lives and alleviating economic consequences in cases of natural disasters.”