Destination Earth: Towards a Digital Twin Planet

 Destination Earth: Towards a Digital Twin Planet

Digital Twin

Earlier this year the European Commission launched its plans towards developing a ‘Digital Twin’ of planet Earth, dubbed ‘Destination Earth’, abbreviated as ‘DestinE’. The objective of this initiative is to develop a very high precision digital model of the Earth to monitor and simulate natural and human activity, and to develop and test scenarios that would enable more sustainable development and support European environmental policies.

Green Deal and Digital Strategy

Destination Earth is an important part of the European Commission’s Green Deal and Digital Strategy. 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. By opening up access to public datasets across Europe, it will also represent a key component of the European Strategy for Data.

Users of DestinE will be able to access vast amounts of natural and socio-economic information in order to:

  • Continuously monitor the health of the planet (e.g. to study the effects of climate change, the state of the oceans, the cryosphere, biodiversity, land use, and natural resources)
  • Perform high precision, dynamic simulations of the Earth’s natural systems (focusing on thematic domains, e.g. marine, land, coasts, atmosphere)
  • Improve modelling and predictive capacities (e.g. to help anticipate and plan measures in case of hurricanes and other extreme weather events and natural disasters, and contribute to analysing events with a major socio-economic impact)
  • Support EU policy-making and implementation (e.g. to assess the impact and efficiency of environmental policy and relevant legislative measures)
  • Reinforce Europe’s industrial and technological capabilities in simulation, modelling, predictive data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI), as well as high performance computing.

Cloud-based Modelling and Simulation

At the heart of Destination Earth will be a federated cloud-based modelling and simulation platform, providing access to data, advanced computing infrastructure (including high performance computing), software, AI applications and analytics. It will integrate digital twins – digital replicas of various aspects of the Earth system, such as weather forecasting and climate change, food and water security, global ocean circulation and the biogeochemistry of the oceans, and more– giving users access to thematic information, services, models, scenarios, simulations, forecasts, and visualisations. The platform will enable application development and the integration of users’ own data.

Initially DestinE will serve public authorities. It will gradually be opened up to scientific and industrial users, in order to spur innovation and enable the benchmarking of models and data.

Improved Climate Modelling

By rendering the planet’s atmosphere in boxes only 1 kilometer across, a scale many times finer than existing climate models, Destination Earth can base its forecasts on far more detailed real-time data than ever before.

Typical climate models run at resolutions of 50 or 100 kilometers; even top ones like ECMWF’s “European” model run at 9 kilometers. The new model’s 1-kilometer resolution will enable it to directly render convection, the vertical transport of heat critical to the formation of clouds and storms, rather than relying on an algorithmic approximation. “I call it the third dimension of climate modeling,” says Bjorn Stevens, a climate scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology. The model will also simulate the ocean in fine enough detail to capture the behavior of swirling eddies that are important movers of heat and carbon.

In Japan, pioneering runs of a 1-kilometer global climate model have shown that directly simulating storms and eddies leads to better short-term rainfall predictions. But it should also improve climate forecasts over periods of months and years. Recent work has shown climate models are not capturing predictable changes in wind patterns that drive swings in regional temperature and rainfall—probably because the models fail to reproduce storms and eddies.

The high resolution will also enable Destination Earth to base its forecasts on more detailed data. Weather models suck in observations of temperature and pressure from satellites, weather stations, aircraft, and buoys to guide their simulations. But coarse grids mean the models can’t assimilate measurements that don’t average well or cover broad areas, such as fractures opening up in sea ice. Destination Earth will close this gap, says Sandrine Bony, a cloud scientist at the Pierre Simon Laplace Institute. “The scales that are resolved are closer to the scales that are measured.”

The model will also incorporate real-time data charting atmospheric pollution, crop growth, forest fires, and other phenomena known to affect weather and climate, says Francisco Doblas-Reyes, an earth system scientist at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center. “If a volcano goes off tomorrow, that’s important for the risk of tropical precipitation failure in a few months.” And it will fold in data about society, such as energy use, traffic patterns, and human movements (traced by mobile phones).


DestinE will be implemented gradually over the next 7-10 years, starting in 2021. The operational core platform, the digital twins and services are scheduled to be developed as part of the Commission’s Digital Europe programme, whilst Horizon Europe will provide research and innovation opportunities that will support the further development of DestinE. Synergies with other EU programmes, such as the Space Programme, and related national initiatives will also be explored.

DestinE will be developed gradually through the following key milestones:

  • In 2023: Launch of an operational cloud-based enabling platform and the first two digital twins.
  • By 2025: Platform integrates 4-5 operational digital twins and offers services to public sector users for developing, monitoring and assessing the impact of proposed policy and legislative measures concerning the environment and climate.
  • By 2025-30: Development towards a full digital twin of the Earth through a convergence of the digital twins already offered through the platform.

Read more here about the European Commission Destination Earth project.

Open Funding Call for a Digital Twin of the Ocean

The Digital Twin of the Ocean concept is to make a step further by integrating all European assets related to seas and oceans, like data, models, physical ocean observatories at sea) with digital technologies (cloud, super HPC capacities, AI and data analytics) into a digital component that represents a consistent high-resolution, multi-dimensional and (nearly) real-time description of the ocean. It will contribute to the Commission’s Green Deal and Digital Package commitments to develop a very high precision digital model of the Earth (Destination Earth initiative).

See here all information about the Digital Twin Ocean open call (closing date 26 January 2021):

Remco Timmermans

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