EU initiative "DestinE": “Digital Twin” of the Earth

AWI participates in a major European contract for adaptation to climate change
[10. December 2022] 

The “Destination Earth” (DestinE) initiative from the EU Commission started in 2022 and is an important part of Europe's Green Deal and Digital Strategy. By 2030, DestinE aims to create a high-resolution digital model of the Earth to support climate change adaptation policies and decision-making for reducing the impacts of extremes. Numerous European authorities, climate research institutions and supercomputing centers are involved in the project. Alfred Wegener Institute is participating in DestinE with its ocean model FESOM, which efficiently simulates ocean currents and sea ice and can selectively depict individual key regions in a higher resolution.

At the end of March 2022, the European Commission started the Destination Earth initiative, which is intended to help tackle climate change and protect nature. The aim of the program is to develop a high-resolution digital model of the Earth. This will help monitor human activities and natural phenomena, analyze for example for the climate of the future and test possible measures and scenarios for more sustainable development.

In the first phase of the project, the partners are building the three central pillars of Destination Earth by mid-2024. The European Space Agency (ESA) is responsible for developing the core service platform through which users can access data, services and application tools. The European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, EUMETSAT, operates the “Data Lake,” the central repository for all relevant data sets – new and existing, such as data from the Copernicus Earth observation program. The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts ECMWF is responsible for the development of two “digital twins” to begin with, which will be used to model specific areas of the Earth system and for the Digital Twin Engine, used to power the twins. The digital twin for weather-induced  extremeswill focus on extreme weather, hydrological and air quality events such as floods, droughts, and pollution episodes.

The second “twin” focuses on climate change and will develop a configurable climate information system performing multi-decadal global climate simulations. Similar to classical climate models, it can be used, among other things, to calculate future scenarios for various emission paths of greenhouse gases and to test climate protection measures. The task was given to the Finnish CSC - IT Center for Science together with 12 partner institutions, including Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). The consortium brings together leading European institutions from climate research and Earth system modeling, as well as Europe's fastest supercomputers - such as the LUMI (Large Unified Modern Infrastructure) in Kajaani, Finland, and the MareNostrum 5 in Barcelona, which will go into operation in 2023.

AWI is participating with its proven ocean model FESOM (volumE Sea ice-Ocean Model), which simulates ocean currents and sea ice, among other things. “The digital twin that we will jointly develop as part of Destination Earth, should, as a major innovation, enable global climate simulations with an unprecedented resolution of less than 5 kilometers, in which important climate processes can be explicitly calculated,” explains Prof. Thomas Jung, head of the Climate Dynamics Department and Vice Director of AWI. “For this to work, we need modern modeling approaches in addition to Europe's excellent supercomputers. The strength of FESOM is its scalability and flexibility.” Unlike many other ocean models, FESOM uses unstructured grids rather than regular ones. Users can selectively draw the grid elements smaller and thus resolve specific dynamic active regions more precisely – for example, individual ocean currents.

“DestinE will greatly improve our ability to predict the consequences of global warming. It will also put Europe at the forefront of efforts to explore how information technologies can help people to delve into new digital landscapes – making climate change and its consequences more tangible,” says Thomas Jung.

By 2030, further “digital twins” – on biodiversity, among other things – will be developed and then coupled to form a complete digital replica of the Earth.