Scientists have devised an advanced computer model that integrates both weather and climate systems, along with the impact humans have on Earth. This sophisticated “digital twin” of our planet provides precise simulations of the interplay between natural events and human activities, helping to forecast their effects on essentials like water, food, and energy resources.

Known as Destination Earth (DestinE), this initiative by the European Commission was launched with over €315 million in funding from the Digital Europe programme. DestinE aims to combine local and global climate data with human actions to create a full Earth system depiction.

With ongoing development expected to complete by 2030, DestinE currently has two models focusing on climate change adaptation and weather-induced extremes.

Why Do We Need a ‘Digital Twin’ of Earth?

As climate change drives more extreme weather, estimating its impacts becomes crucial. The World Meteorological Organization reports that severe weather events led to over two million deaths from 1970 to 2021.

Events like the extreme heatwaves in Europe in 2003 and 2010, causing 80% of weather-related deaths on the continent, highlight the urgency.

The ongoing deterioration of climate conditions, such as the record-breaking global temperatures seen in May, underlines the necessity for improved predictive tools.

The Destination Earth (DestinE) initiative aims to create a highly accurate digital model to address this need.

This digital twin will assist Europe in responding more effectively to natural disasters. Beyond immediate responses, it will help in adapting to long-term climate changes and evaluating the socioeconomic and policy impacts of such events.

For instance, DestinE can simulate the effectiveness of proposed infrastructures like a two-meter high dike in The Netherlands, ensuring it withstands anticipated extreme events by 2050.

Additionally, it can optimize planning for wind farms and agricultural land use based on evolving climate conditions.

The combination of real-time data and advanced simulations in DestinE offers a significant advantage to policymakers, scientists, and environmental agencies in tackling the myriad challenges posed by climate change.

How will a ‘digital twin’ help Europe reach its climate targets?

Europe aims to be the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.

The Destination Earth project, in collaboration with the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), is a significant step towards this goal.

By creating a detailed digital replica of Earth, the initiative supports environmental policies and green technology investments, ensuring more sustainable development across Europe.

Supercomputers used to power the simulation

The development of this detailed Earth simulation requires an immense amount of computational power. Researchers estimate the necessity of a supercomputer with approximately 20,000 graphics processors, consuming around 20MW of power.

Efforts are concentrated on using high-performance European computers, particularly the LUMI supercomputer situated in Kajaani, Finland.

A crucial aspect of this project is its environmental footprint. While the exact power source for these systems remains unspecified, experts emphasize that carbon-neutral energy is essential.

Finland, a leader in renewable energy within the EU, derives nearly half of its power from sustainable sources.

The project sets ambitious goals, aiming to have multiple digital twins and additional services operational by 2027. The ultimate plan is to integrate data from these simulations to form a comprehensive digital twin of Earth by the decade’s end.

  1. Quite intrigued by the concept of a digital Earth twin. Wonder how accurate these simulations can get.

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