Can a digital replica of the Earth save the world from climate catastrophe?

A digital replica of the Earth could help scientists better model the future of our planet and find solutions to problems caused by climate change.

The advanced model, dubbed Digital Twin Earth, is developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and its partners on the basis of data and images from Earth observation satellites and ground sensors. To function reliably, the project will require new advanced artificial intelligence algorithms and powerful supercomputers, which are currently under development.

ESA and its partners discussed their progress towards the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26, a two-week event currently taking place in Glasgow, Scotland.

ESA launched the Digital twin earth project in 2020 and invited researchers and tech companies from across Europe to showcase their progress at an event called PhiWeek, which took place October 11-15.

The objective of this planetary mega-model is to simulate the effects of various natural processes and human activities on the planet and to model scenarios of future evolution. For example, scientists might be able to model how replacing energy production from fossil fuels in a certain region with renewable power plants alters concentrations of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and how this change, in turn, affects the rate of the sea level rises.

At the PhiWeek conference, ESA partners presented several partial models, smaller-scale ‘twins’ focusing on various regions of the world. Earth or the subsystems of the planet.

For example, a digital model of Antarctica is being developed by a team led by scientists from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Antarctica holds 60% of all Earth’s fresh water, scientists say in a report. If all that ice melted, global sea level would rise by 58 meters (190 feet). The digital twin will help researchers better understand the state of the ice sheet and study the thawing process.

“By exploiting satellite observations, digital simulations and artificial intelligence, we have built a twin of the Antarctic ice cap system, its hydrology, the surrounding ocean, the atmosphere and the biosphere,” said Noel Gourmelen, cryosphere scientist at the University of Edinburgh at ESA. declaration. “We used the Antarctic Twin to track the location of meltwater over and under the ice cap, and to explore how fringing ice shelves melt under various hydrological scenarios.”

Other partial twins focused on the hydrology of the Por river basin in northern Italy and on modeling droughts in Africa.

The Digital Twin Ocean, developed by the Institut national des sciences de la mer in France, examines the interaction between changes in the atmosphere and the behavior of the oceans. Scientists will use this model to study so-called arctic amplification, a little understood phenomenon that sees the northern polar regions warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.

The models are designed to be easily accessible even to users without advanced technical knowledge of Earth observation and climate modeling. Policymakers should be able to use these models to visualize changes in ecosystems and model the consequences of various decisions, the researchers said.

For example, Digital Twin Food Systems simulates how agricultural activities interfere with the wider natural system, but also models the effects of climatic variations on food production.

The Forest Digital Twin aims to create the most detailed and realistic model of global forest cover and to study the different functions that forests play in the life of the planet, including the storage of carbon dioxide which warms the climate. .

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