EU to Create ‘Digital Twins’ of Earth, Run on EuroHPC Supercomputers

By Oliver Peckham

October 10, 2020

In a move sure to titillate those who believe we may be living in a simulation, the European Union is set to create “digital twins” of the planet — massive simulations incorporating the Earth’s natural systems as well as human activity. The moonshot project, called Destination Earth (or “DestinE”), will unfold over the coming decade, aiming to leverage ultra-high-resolution modeling to inform and demonstrate the impact of European environmental policies and usher in a new era of sustainable development.

“[DestinE] will unlock the potential of digital modelling of the Earth’s physical resources and related phenomena such as climate change, water/marine environments, polar areas and the cryosphere, etc. on a global scale to speed up the green transition and help plan for major environmental degradation and disasters,” the European Commission wrote in a statement.

The Commission sees a number of high-profile uses for DestinE: monitoring the health of planetary systems like the climate, the cryosphere and land use through high-precision simulations; improving modeling and predictive capabilities for extreme weather events; supporting EU policy-making and implementation; and generally reinforcing Europe’s abilities in simulation, modeling, analytics, AI and HPC.

The “heart” of DestinE, the Commission says, will be a federated, cloud-based modeling and simulation platform. Users of the cloud platform will be able to access services, models, scenarios, simulations, forecasts and visualizations – and will even be able to develop their own applications and integrate their own data. 

DestinE falls under the umbrellas of the European Commission’s Green Deal and Digital Strategy programs, which respectively aim to ensure a sustainable economy for the EU and position the EU as a global player in a fair, democratic digital economy. This also links DestinE with the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking (JU), a concerted HPC effort currently comprising 32 member states across the European Union that just announced plans for an €8 billion investment in supercomputing.

Powering the digital twin and other simulations under DestinE will, of course, be a compute-intensive task. DestinE will be powered by one of three pre-exascale supercomputers in the works through EuroHPC: the LUMI system, which will be hosted by CSC in Finland; the MareNostrum 5 system, which will be hosted by the Barcelona Supercomputing Center; or the Leonardo system, which will be hosted by the CINECA consortium in Italy. The three systems – all of which will cost upwards of a hundred million euro – are planned for installation in late 2020 to early 2021.  

This aligns with the plan announced by the European Commission, which is to ready and implement DestinE beginning in 2021 and continuing across the following seven to ten years. The first steps are already in motion: following an initial stakeholder meeting last November, the Commission’s Joint Research Centre is preparing a report on DestinE’s use cases (expected this month) and hosting two workshops on the first of DestinE’s digital twins: one on a digital twin for extreme weather (October 21st) and one on a digital twin for climate change adaptation (October 22nd).

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