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"Emerging digital technologies present new opportunities to create a digital replica of the Earth"

  • "Emerging digital technologies present new opportunities to create digital replica of the Earth"
  • The objective of the Destination Earth initiative is to develop a very high precision digital model of our planet. It will monitor and simulate natural and human activity, and allow developing scenarios to support European environmental policies and foster sustainable development.
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European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts
ECMWF is the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.

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Destination Earth is a ground-breaking EU initiative to support the green transition by providing new Earth system simulation and observation capabilities. A digital twin of the Earth will be created, making it possible to explore natural processes and human actives in an interactive way. It is expected to enhance our ability to produce climate models with unprecedented detail and reliability. Thanks to it, policy-makers will be able to anticipate and mitigate the effects of climate change, saving lives and alleviating economic consequences in cases of natural disasters. The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) is a major partner in the EU initiative alongside the European Space Agency and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT). In this interview, Deputy Director of Research at ECMWF Peter Bauer gives an overview of Destination Earth and what we can expect from it as it unfolds.

Answer: Can you tell us briefly about your career path and your current role at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF)?

Question: I studied atmospheric physics in Germany and did my PhD on satellite remote sensing in Hamburg. I then joined the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and founded a group working on satellite remote sensing of clouds and precipitation. During this time, I also spent some time in the USA (NOAA and NASA) and France (IPSL). I joined ECMWF in 2000 where, after a few years, I took over the management of the satellite section, then of the model division. At present, I am the deputy director of the research department and coordinate the ECMWF contribution to Destination Earth.

A: The ECMWF recently presented EU plans to develop a high-precision digital model – a digital twin – of the Earth. Can you explain how the idea for Destination Earth emerged and evolved? What needs does it address?

Q: The concept of Destination Earth emerged from the need to greatly accelerate simulation model skill and observational data usage given the apparent challenges that extremes and climate change have on our society. Some of this had been already proposed in a project called ExtremeEarth a few years ago and several publications over the years.

The concept of Destination Earth emerged from the need to greatly accelerate simulation model skill and observational data usage

The presently emerging novel digital technologies supporting high-performance computing, big data handling, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning present new opportunities to scale up what we are presently able to do and create a much more powerful, open and interactive way of digitally replicating the Earth-system and use this information in support of better policymaking for the green transition.

A: Can you tell us about the planned timeline and milestones of Destination Earth?

Q: Destination Earth will be kicked off in mid-2021 and its first phase will last 30 months. However, we expect it to stretch throughout the entire EC funding framework period 2021-2027. The first phase will be an implementation phase, in which the digital twins, the core service platform and the data lake will be set up and connected. The initial digital twins will focus on weather-induced and geophysical extremes and climate change adaptation. The core service platform will be the access portal for everything that Destination Earth produces and the data lake is Destination Earth’s virtual data repository. Phase 2, after 30 months, will then start production, scale-up these infrastructure components and increasingly widen user access, openness for data and models.


ECMWF Weather Room.

A: Who are the potential users of the model? How will it be made available?

Q: The users will be from all sectors affected by extremes and climate change – from both public and private entities. That includes traditional weather, climate and environmental services, civil protection, food, water, energy, health and finance/insurance. The programme will make available data, models and services through its service platform that allows interactive access to Destination Earth data and models. This will guarantee interoperability and open and free access.

A: What are the sources of the data fed into the digital twin, and how will it be kept up to date throughout the years?

Q: Destination Earth will use and disseminate the vast amounts of diverse observational data from satellites, surface networks, balloons, buoys etc. that our weather and climate community has been used to ingesting for decades. Both the volume and diversity of this data are growing rapidly.

In phase 1, the initial digital twins will focus on weather induced and geophysical extremes and climate change adaptation

In addition, new observational data sources like IoT will be explored. A major data source will be Earth-system simulations based on very high-resolution models that we aim to combine with the observations such that we can produce the best possible representation of the Earth system at any given point in time and location.

A: To what extent do you think the destination Earth initiative will help integrate green transition efforts across different sectors that depend on Earth data such as the water or the agricultural sectors?

Q: This is actually one of the main aims of Destination Earth as it will look at the Earth system – including the human sphere related to food and water management – in a holistic way. This should provide a much more integrated tool for planning policy measures and controlling their effectiveness.

Peter Bauer presenting a 'Progress report on ECMWF's scalability programme' at ECMWF's workshop on high performance computing in meteorology, 24-28 September 2018.

A: Where does Europe stand versus the rest of the world in terms of global-scale simulation and modelling?

Q: The global Earth-system modelling community is very well connected and there is a strong exchange between centres all over the world to advance our joint capabilities. An example of this is the strong role of the World Meteorological Organization in running joint development and operational programmes that also help disseminate developments across the globe. The quality of global weather and climate predictions is rather similar between the leading centres of the world, and it is important to maintain a common push for more realistic models and enhanced predictive skill.

A: Where do you see the Destination Earth initiative 20 years from now?

Q: As a fully operational, highly accessible data analysis and modelling platform giving access to the best available simulation models combined with vast observational datasets, continually updated and fully connect to impact sectors like food, water, energy and health: the best possible digital replica of the Earth system monitoring the past and present and predicting the future.