'Digital Earth' Could Help Predict Effects of Climate Change

Scientists are building a digital model of the Earth that will act as an information system for better decision-making on development and environmental issues within the European Union.

Mar. 9, 2021
By Costas Vasilopoulos

Recent News

A team of sci­en­tists and researchers from ETH Zurich University have cre­ated a high-pre­ci­sion vir­tual rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Earth to sim­u­late the effects of cli­mate change.

Named Destination Earth, the so-called dig­i­tal twin of the planet will model the impacts of nat­ural and human activ­i­ties on the planet.

The sci­en­tists plan to feed Destination Earth obser­va­tional data used for weather fore­casts and repli­cate as many processes occur­ring on the planet as pos­si­ble, includ­ing the impact of humans on food, water and energy sys­tems.

See Also:Project Helps Growers Prepare for Challenges Posed by Climate Change

Ultimately, they hope to pre­dict future events based on the cli­matic fluc­tu­a­tions occur­ring on the planet.

Available data indi­cate that the con­tin­u­ously trans­form­ing cli­mate is cre­at­ing hos­tile con­di­tions for humans.


According to the Germanwatch orga­ni­za­tion for equity and the preser­va­tion of liveli­hoods, extreme weather has claimed more than half a mil­lion human lives dur­ing the last decades.

A recent report from the United Nations also found that dis­as­ters linked to extreme weather have expo­nen­tially increased since the 1980s.

Earth’s dig­i­tal model will act as an infor­ma­tion sys­tem, pro­duc­ing results before extreme weather events occur in real life.

The results may then be used by national and local author­i­ties to mit­i­gate the effects of cli­mate change and gov­ern­ments to decide on future poli­cies.

See Also:2020 Tied for Hottest Year on Record, Capping Off the World’s Warmest Decade

Examples of these poli­cies include deci­sions on where to plant crops to receive bet­ter yields in the com­ing years or choos­ing bet­ter loca­tions to build wind tur­bines.

The sys­tem is expected to pro­vide infor­ma­tion that will remain valid for sev­eral decades.

If you are plan­ning a two-meter high dike in the Netherlands, I can run through the data in my dig­i­tal twin and check whether the dike will in all like­li­hood still pro­tect against expected extreme events in 2050,” said Peter Bauer, deputy direc­tor for research at the European Center for Medium-​Range Weather Forecasts and co-cre­ator of Destination Earth.

The imple­men­ta­tion of Earth’s dig­i­tal twin also poses chal­lenges for com­puter sci­ence experts since incred­i­bly advanced sys­tems and algo­rithms need to be devel­oped to run the com­plex sim­u­la­tions of the pro­gram.

By 2025, the researchers aim to have cre­ated five func­tional dig­i­tal rep­re­sen­ta­tions of planet Earth and use the pro­duced data to build a full dig­i­tal twin of Earth.”

The project is part of the European Union’s big­ger plan to achieve cli­mate neu­tral­ity by 2050. It is expected to help improve sus­tain­able devel­op­ment prac­tices and adopt bet­ter envi­ron­men­tal poli­cies within the bloc.

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