Scientists from the European Union have launched a new program to create a digital simulation of the entire Earth to model future climate trends and prepare for potentially catastrophic events. The project, called Destination Earth, is an extremely ambitious attempt to help efforts to become carbon neutral by 2050 and is expected to run for the next 10 years.
“Destination Earth (DestinE) will contribute to the European Commission’s Green Deal and Digital Strategy,” states the press release.
“It will unlock the potential of digital modelling of the Earth’s physical resources and related phenomena such as climate change, water / marine environments, polar areas and the cryosphere, etc. on a global scale to speed up the green transition and help plan for major environmental degradation and disasters.”
To create Earth’s digital twin, the scientists will be utilizing supercomputers and cloud-based systems to pull vast amounts of computational power. The reason DestinE is such a challenge? Currently, there is a lack of computers in the world that have the raw modeling power to host a model of Earth to a 1-kilometer (0.6-mile) resolution. Therefore, the EU is also joining the digital race with the leading world superpowers to develop supercomputers capable of over one billion calculations per second (called an exascale computer). This will be largely helped by an €8 billion investment into supercomputers, which was given in September 2020. The development of this supercomputer will coincide with the creation of DestinE, which for now will be created on existing supercomputers that will become operational in 2021 as part of the European Digital Strategy.
As it is slowly developed, the model will be fed observational data of the Earth and human activity around it, building a bank of information that is constantly changing. Using this, researchers will be able to run simulations of the future with certain parameters, which will massively help the fight against climate change. It is hoped that environmental policies could be run in simulations to gauge their impact before implementation, allowing policy-makers to choose the optimum path.
It will also be able to “help anticipate and plan measures in case of hurricanes and other extreme weather events” to lessen their impact on human populations nearby. Even on a smaller scale, the digital twin might be able to help out each person planning a nice weekend out.
"If you are planning a two-metre 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." says Peter Bauer, deputy director for Research at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts and co-initiator of DestinE, talking to ETH Zurich.