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ESA Creates Digital Model of Earth to Fight Climate Change

Digital Earth
The Earth Day flag. The EU is developing a digital model of the entire Earth in order to better address the challenges of climate change. Credit: Public Domain

A digital model of the Earth, created by the European Space Agency (ESA) should make it easier for researchers to keep track of the effects of climate change and even help predict its ramifications in the future.

Called “Digital Twin Earth,” the digital prototype is being worked on collaboratively by the ESA and its partners using a wealth of images and data collected by satellites and ground-based sensors.

But to make it function as intended, it will need the help of artificial intelligence, working with supercomputers that are only now being developed.

Digital Twin Earth models recreate biosphere of entire earth, one system at a time

The ESA and its collaborators spoke to the press about the gigantic project as part of the ongoing UN Climate Change Conference COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, which is now in its final days.

It was just last year when the ESA kicked off its ambitious Digital Twin Earth project.

The intent of the digital model is to accurately predict the effects of natural events in combination with human-induced changes to see what changes might occur in the biosphere.

In the future, the scientists hope, they may be able to visualize the changes in greenhouse gas formation due to the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy in any given region of the earth. That of course would affect the melting of glaciers, which would affect sea levels either in certain areas or all around the world.

Officials from the ESA and its partners presented a number of models that are still under development, as well as smaller versions of the “twin Earth” models which focus on certain areas of the globe.

Right now, the scientists state they are constructing a digital model of Antarctica. Currently being developed by researchers from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, this model will be one of the most important in that the southernmost continent contains the equivalent of 60% of all the fresh water on the Earth.

Climate change can be predicted easier with accurate digital models of Earth

In the unlikely event that all that ice melted, there would be a gigantic increase in sea levels, to the tune of 190 feet (58 meters), which would engulf all of the coastal regions of the world.

The scientists hope that using the digital twin Earth model will help them substantiate just how these processes would take place around the globe, using a digital mockup of the huge Antarctica ice sheet.

Noel Gourmelen, a cryosphere scientist at the University of Edinburgh said in the statement made by the ESA prior to the unveiling of the digital mockups “By harnessing satellite observations, numerical simulations and artificial intelligence, we have built a twin of the Antarctic ice sheet system, its hydrology, surrounding ocean, atmosphere and biosphere.

“We have used the Antarctic twin to track the whereabouts of melt water on and under the ice sheet, and to explore how fringing ice shelves melt under various hydrology scenarios.”

Another, smaller model already created is a digital twin of the hydrological system of the Po River Basin in northern Italy.

Arctic amplification of effects of climate change modeled in “Digital Twin Ocean”

An enormous computer model, called “The Digital Twin Ocean,” was developed by the National Institute for Ocean Science in France as part of the Digital Twin Earth project. This gigantic system recreates the interaction between the great waters of the Earth and its atmosphere.

Researchers intend to use this in an attempt to understand the phenomenon called “Arctic amplification,” which happens when the northern polar regions of the planet warm up twice as fast as the other areas of the planet.

The scientists are quick to point out that the models won’t be just another tool that only those with science PhD’s can use — on the contrary, those in charge of making policy should be able to use the system to look at changes that might occur down the road when certain decisions regarding the burning of fossil fuels, etc., are made.

Smaller digital systems are in development regarding agriculture, which will show not only how commercial food production interferes with the nature but how the growing of our food will be impacted by climate change.

The great forests of the world are being recreated digitally as well, with “The Forest Digital Twin,” which will portray how these living lungs of the planet interact with the atmosphere, including the storage of carbon dioxide.

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