Barcelona creates a «virtual replica» of the Earth to test measures against the climate crisis


An international team of researchers, largely led from Barcelona, ​​is creating a «virtual replica» of Earth to try to answer all these questions and, above all, to help design more efficient adaptation and mitigation measures. «We need to have as much information as possible to face all the challenges posed by the climate crisis. We must understand how phenomena such as global warming and droughts will affect crops in a specific area in order to design more and better tools to protect them,» he says. Francisco Doblas Reyesone of the scientists behind this initiative, in an interview with EL PERIÓDICO.

«We need to have as much information as possible to face all the challenges posed by the climate crisis»

Francisco Doblas Reyes

The project is known as ‘Destiny Earth’It has a total budget of 150 million euros and has been promoted by the European Comission with the collaboration of institutions such as the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Center for Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). The design and assembly of our planet’s first «digital twin» is being engendered in the circuitry of various European supercomputers like, for example, the Barcelona Supercomputing Center; a center that, today, stands out among the main developers of this project.

What is a ‘digital twin’ of Earth for?

In the industry for years ‘digital twins’ are used to study, for example, how a car will react to an impact and, in turn, to implement improvements that will protect its crew. In the case of our planet, the creation of a digital replica of the Earth will allow, for example, to study the impact of drought on a specific plantation in Lleida. Or assess the risk of flooding in the municipalities near the Maresme or Garraf streams. or predict How will heat waves affect in certain neighborhoods of Barcelona, ​​Madrid or Seville. Or even study how in the future extreme storms could increase in some latitudes of the globe and, from there, improve warning systems before this type of extreme phenomena.

Each of these scenarios can be modified based on different factors. For example, to see what happens if temperatures rise above the threshold of 1.5 degrees on average, if thermometers rise above 2 degrees or if we go towards an increase of more than 3 degrees. «It will also be a key tool for negotiations of future climate summits because it will allow us to know, for example, how temperatures will evolve if emissions are reduced by 20% or 50%», says Doblas-Reyes. «Until now, between the time a question was asked and the answer could be found, it could take months. Now it will be a matter of weeks and in some cases it could even be get some real time forecasts«adds Doblas-Reyes, ICREA researcher and director of the Department of Earth Sciences at the National Supercomputing Center (BSC-CNS).

What resolution will this virtual replica have?

One of the strengths of this project, according to its promoters, will be diagnostic accuracy and of the medium and long term climate forecasts. «The most advanced models to date that have a resolution of about 100 km and, for the most part, they focused on regions such as Europe and North America. In this new project we want achieve a resolution between 10 and 5 km all over the planet», says Doblas-Reyes. In practice, it will be like going from a panorama with a «very coarse» detail resolution to a high-definition image. «This model will allow us to fine-tune at a level hitherto unprecedented. It will also help us to study the interaction of several complex phenomena such as ocean currents and weather patterns and its effect on regional climateadds this researcher.

«This model will allow us to refine a level hitherto unprecedented. We will have a resolution of between 10 and 5 km across the entire planet»

This scientist was also one of the experts who led the latest installment of the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Already then, thanks to its climate models, it was possible to observe how the Mediterranean has become a «red point» of climate change and how, in the future, the advance of the climate crisis could raise Spanish thermometers between four and seven degrees Celsius. «Right now We already know ‘roughly’ what trajectory The climate crisis awaits us. Now we need to refine the diagnosis in more specific areas to prepare ourselves as much as possible for what might happen», comments the researcher at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center.

When will it be available?

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As explained by the team behind this project, the first digital twin of the Earth in high resolution could take between seven and ten years to assemble. Even so, it is possible that end of 2023 and beginning of 2024 The first pilot model has already been launched to understand how the advance of the climate crisis could impact different areas of the planet. The first prototype, moreover, It will be integrated with an artificial intelligence system that will allow users to ask specific questions and, in turn, receive a detailed analysis of the predictions. It will be about a kind of chat that will allow you to consult the most advanced weather forecasts to date.

The first digital replica of our planet is being assembled on the circuits of nine European supercomputers, such as the one at the Center for Science Ltd in Finland. The Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC-CNS), together with its Marenostrum 5 supercomputer, is the center that is assuming a greater weight in this part of the project. In total, the Spanish participation in this project has obtained financing of 4.5 million euros. Spanish researchers also stand out among the leading European experts responsible for the coordination of this project and, in general, of the assembly of the first virtual twin of our planet.

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