The European Union Is Building A Digital Twin Of Earth To Help Forecast Impact Of Climate Change
We’re all imagining better versions of our world these days. One without viruses, with less pollution, and a much brighter future. The good news is that there is another Earth in the works out there; not one you can live on, but one that may help to save the world.
As Science Magazine reports, the European Union (EU) is finalising plans for a digital twin of Earth that will simulate the atmosphere and land mass, along with forecasts of climate change fallout.
With renders of the planet’s atmosphere in boxes only 1 kilometer across, Destination Earth will have more detailed real-time data to base upon its forecasts of floods, droughts, and fires. Interestingly, the climate model is also able to simulate human behaviour in the event of such catastrophes, helping leaders decide on the best policy needed.
The project stems from EU fears that it was lagging behind other territories in terms of supercomputing. A first attempt dubbed Extreme Earth may have failed, but 2018’s setting up of the European High-Performance Computing Joint Undertaking led to the groundwork for eventual ‘exascale’ machines.
Capable of 1 billion billion calculations per second, this supercomputing is how Digital Earth is able to directly render convection, the vertical transportation of heat that leads to the formation of clouds. It can even simulate the ocean down to the behaviour of swirling eddies, which you may be surprised to know are important movers of heat and carbon. This wasn’t possible with previous algorithm-based models, which used man-made constructions such as satellites, weather stations, and buoys as a guide.
Bjorn Stevens, a climate scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, tells Science Magazine this is ‘the third dimension of climate modelling’. Real-time data will chart phenomena that affects weather and climate such as atmospheric pollution, crop growth, and the kind of forest fires that recently turned skies orange in the USA.
Francisco Doblas-Reyes, an earth system scientist at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, told Science Magazine, ‘If a volcano goes off tomorrow, that’s important for the risk of tropical precipitation failure in a few months.’
Digital Earth will be able to predict such ‘butterfly effects’ when it runs next year on one of three European exascale systems, which will together rank in the world’s top five supercomputers.
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