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

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

The advanced model, called Digital Twin Earth, is being developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and its partners based on data and images from Earth observation satellites and sensors on the ground. To run reliably, the project requires new advanced artificial intelligence algorithms and powerful supercomputers currently being developed.

ESA and its partners discussed their progress in the run-up to the UN Climate Change Conference COP26, a two-week event currently taking place in Glasgow, Scotland.

ESA has the Digital twin earth Project in 2020 and invited researchers and tech companies from across Europe to showcase their progress during an event called PhiWeek, held October 11-15.

The aim 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 could model how replacing fossil fuel generation in a given region with renewable power plants will reduce the concentrations of Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and how this shift in turn affects the rate of sea ​​level rises.

At the PhiWeek conference, the ESA partners presented several sub-models, smaller “twins”, which relate to different regions of 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 freshwater on earth, the scientists said in a statement. If all of the ice melted, global sea levels would rise a whopping 58 meters. The digital twin will help researchers better understand the state of the ice sheet and study the thawing process.

“Using satellite observations, numerical simulations and artificial intelligence, we have built a twin of the Antarctic ice sheet system, its hydrology, the surrounding ocean, the atmosphere and the biosphere,” said Noel Gourmelen, cryosphere scientist at the University of Edinburgh in the ESA statement. “We used the Antarctic twin to track the fate of meltwater on and under the ice sheet and to study how marginal ice shelves melt under different hydrological scenarios.”

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

The Digital Twin Ocean, developed by the National Institute for Ocean Science in France, examines the interplay between changes in the atmosphere and the behavior of the oceans. With this model, the scientists will study what is known as arctic amplification, a poorly understood phenomenon in which the northern polar regions warm up twice as quickly 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. Policy makers should be able to use these models to visualize changes in ecosystems and model the consequences of various decisions, the researchers said.

For example, the Digital Twin Food Systems simulates how agricultural activities intervene in the larger natural system, but also models the effects of climate fluctuations on food production.

The Forest Digital Twin aims to create the most detailed and realistic model of global forest cover and to study the various functions that forests play in the life of the planet, including storing the climate-warming carbon dioxide.

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