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Why is the European Commission creating a digital twin for Earth?

A €315 million project has been launched to create a ‘digital twin’ for planet Earth. Combining Artificial Intelligence with a highly complex computer model, it aims to monitor and predict the impacts of natural phenomena and human activity on Earth. 

Twin… where have you been? That’s what planet Earth would be singing if it could, because it’s about to get its very first, highly accurate digital replica.

Launched by The European Commission on June 10th, the project has been named Destination Earth (DestinE) and is aimed at helping us predict the impacts of all the weather phenomena and human activity taking place on earth in real-time.

Combining data on weather and climate systems with information about human activity on the ground, the project will present a realistic simulation of all things occurring our home planet.

Not only will DestinE help scientists visualise the full scope of environmental and man-made changes as they happen, but Artificial Intelligence and complex computer modelling will use rich datasets to help scientists predict what could happen next.

It’s believed that Earth’s ‘digital twin’ will help Europe respond faster to natural disasters, adapt to climate change, and better assess its socioeconomic and policy impacts. DestinE is also expected to guide sustainable development programs regarding water, food, and energy systems in the near future.

 

A twin planet is born

Bringing DestinE to life is no cheap endeavour, requiring a massive €315 million contribution from The Digital Europe Programme.

It has also required close partnerships with a number of official organizations, including the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, the European Space Agency, and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.

The large-scale project is central to the EU’s plan to become the first climate neutral continent by 2050, as it will help inform policies related to sustainable development and environmental protection.

That said, powering Earth’s massive simulation – and all its ultra-high-RES graphics – has the potential to be pretty energy-heavy. A 2021 study predicted DestinE would need around 20MW of power to support its 20,000 graphics processors alone.

The good news is, experts working on the project have emphasised the need for carbon-neutral energy to power it from the outset. For now, it’s been relying on a supercomputer in Kajaani, Finland – a country which gets almost half of its energy from renewable sources.


Why does the planet need a digital twin?

If you asked this question, you probably haven’t been reading much news lately. Don’t worry, though, we’ll get you up to speed.

Last year (2022-2023) was our planet’s hottest on record. Not to mention, extreme heatwaves in Europe have basically become the norm, causing 80 percent of weather-related deaths between 2003 and 2010.

If you’re in England right now, you probably don’t need me to remind you how strange it is to be wearing a jumper in mid-June. Judging by local weather predictions – which seem to change every hour – it’s clear that our planet is going through some strange and unpredictable motions.

DestinE presents scientists and citizens of Europe alike with an opportunity to better understand and identify the causes of environmental changes and how to adapt and mitigate their impacts.

Once complete, the project will be a game changer not just for science, but for climate action of the future. It also doesn’t hurt that the concept is pretty damn cool.

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