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What is the ESA ”Earth digital twin”?

The Digital Twin Earth program will make it possible to monitor the effects of climate change by predicting its evolution.

Digital replica of past, present and future

As part of the fourth edition of Φ-week held in October, a group of scientists led by the European Space Agency (ESA) presented their ideas on the practical implementation and potential areas of real-world application of a “Digital Twin Earth” or a digital replica of the Earth. This is a substantial virtual and dynamic simulation of the planet that accurately mimics its behaviour and could help humanity better understand the past, present and future of the Earth itself.

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Turning threats into opportunities

This tool, in particular, could be used to monitor the evolution of the situation in some regions of the world. Over the next decade, population growth and human activities are expected to amplify current pressures on critical resources such as water and food, intensify stress on terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and increase environmental pollution and its impacts on health and biodiversity. From rising sea levels and increasing ocean acidification to extreme events such as floods and heatwaves, these threats will need to be carefully monitored, primarily to safeguard the most vulnerable populations.

Deepening these issues will be vital for the resources of the Earth.

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Simulations of human behaviour

The Digital Twin Earth project, using Earth observation data combined with in situ measurements and Artificial Intelligence, will help visualize and predict natural and human activity on the globe. The model will be able to monitor the health of the planet, run simulations of the consequences on the Earth system caused by human behaviour, and help support the field of sustainable development, thus enhancing Europe’s efforts for a better environment and to meet the urgent challenges and goals addressed by the Green Deal.

A scientific challenge

In 2020, ESA had launched several Digital Twin Earth Precursor Activities to study some of the key scientific and technical challenges associated with building a “digital twin” Earth. These activities included forests, hydrology, Antarctica, food systems, oceans, and climate hot spots. Each activity addressed a different scientific, technical, and operational challenge related to Digital Twin Earth, including the role of Artificial Intelligence, the scientific credibility of stakeholder engagement, and the role of sector models and Information and Communication Technology (ITC) infrastructure.

Observing is no longer enough

At ESA Φ-week 2021, experts presented the results of the last year’s activities.

This is an “extremely complex” program that “cannot be just European but global,” for which “tens of billions of euros will be needed and which will develop over the next decade and will therefore be ready in 10 or more years,” said Elena Grifoni-Winters, Chief of Staff to ESA’s Director-General.

“We will need technicians, scientists, engineers, kids who have the motivation to study science subjects to build a sustainable and peaceful future. Because space instruments offer fundamental observational data, but observing is no longer enough. We need to do something new, put together systems that will help us reduce or at least contain this dangerous evolution of our climate.”

Read More: What jobs will there be for our kids in the future. 

And if you want to get all the useful skills and knowledge to understand future scenarios between Earth and space, these courses are certainly the right ones:

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