Scientists aim to use Earth’s digital twin as an interactive tool to map risks like floods and landslides, and manage water resources

Water-based natural disasters such as floods and droughts continue to affect millions of lives but remain difficult to predict. Now, scientists have developed a digital twin of the Earth, which enables them to simulate terrestrial water cycles to look into worst-case scenarios, assess risks, and warn about natural disasters.

In a new study, funded by the European Space Agency, scientists have created a digital twin of the planet; it is a virtual model of Earth that can be tested to destruction without doing real damage, a press statement explained. The study was published in Frontiers of Science.

The model is built using huge amounts of satellite data, along with new observation data that measures soil moisture, precipitation, evaporation, river discharge, and snow depth. It includes measurements taken much across space and time taken as often as once a kilometre and once an hour.

The higher-resolution data is used to create a more detailed picture. The data is constantly updated and can be used for visualisations and simulations. Scientists aim for it to be an interactive tool that can be used to map risks like floods and landslides and manage water resources.

“This project is a perfect example of the synergy between cutting-edge satellite missions and the scientific community,” lead author Luc Brocca said in the statement.

The researchers started by modelling the Po River valley, then expanded to other parts of the Mediterranean basin. They plan to expand to cover all of Europe and aim to apply the same principles around the world. The main goal is to improve flood and landslide prediction and optimize water resource management, the statement explained. Predictions and warnings about potential natural disasters are significantly important for sustainable development and protecting vulnerable populations.

However, to further improve its use on a more local level, more granular data is required. For instance, to maximize its use for agriculture, data resolution should be measured in tens of meters, not hundreds, the statement added.

“The collaborative efforts of scientists, space agencies, and decision-makers promise a future where Digital Twin Earths for hydrology provide invaluable insights for sustainable water management and disaster resilience,” Brocca said in the statement.


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