Destination Earth (DestinE) - developing a digital replica of our planet

The development and implementation of DestinE’s key elements advanced rapidly in 2023 – routine simulations with prototype digital twins provide just one example.

The EU DestinE initiative has really gathered steam and advanced at pace in 2023, towards its goal of a digital replica of the Earth system. It is a truly collaborative European effort and we have seen growing enthusiasm to use the opportunity DestinE provides to take our predictive capabilities to the next level. We are well set to move into Phase 2 and closer to a fully operational system.

Irina Sandu, Director of DestinE at ECMWF

DestinE is a flagship initiative of the European Commission, implemented by ECMWF, ESA and EUMETSAT, to develop a digital replica or twin of planet Earth. It represents a new type of information system with unprecedented levels of detail, quality and interactivity. Designed to help address the growing environmental challenges posed by extreme events and climate change, DestinE complements national capabilities and other European-level initiatives, such as the Copernicus Programme. For ECMWF, DestinE also offers a great opportunity to work very closely with our Member and Co-operating States.

Working with over 90 European partners, ECMWF leads the development of the first two priority digital twins (DTs) on Weather-Induced Extremes (Extremes DT) and Climate Change Adaptation (Climate DT), and of the Digital Twin Engine which provides the software environment needed to power the digital twins and allow users to interact with their data.

A partnership with the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking (EuroHPC JU) means DestinE can work with some of the top supercomputers in the world. The efficient use and ongoing development of next-generation high-performance computing, artificial intelligence and other digital technologies are fundamental to DestinE.

In 2023 complex Earth system models were successfully deployed on the EuroHPC LUMI machine in Finland, Europe’s first pre-exascale high-performance computer, and we began piloting global kilometre-scale simulations. We built end-to-end workflows for the Climate and Extremes DTs and novel data handling capabilities to cope with the huge volumes of data involved. These developments involved, for example, adapting code to LUMI’s mixed computer architecture containing AMD graphical processing units (GPUs).

In December, less than a year after gaining access to LUMI, the first-ever prototype multi-decadal projections at 5 to 10 km scales were run with the Climate DT, in work led by the CSC – IT Center for Science.

The EU DestinE initiative has really gathered steam and advanced at pace in 2023, towards its goal of a digital replica of the Earth system. It is a truly collaborative European effort and we have seen growing enthusiasm to use the opportunity DestinE provides to take our predictive capabilities to the next level. We are well set to move into Phase 2 and closer to a fully operational system.

Irina Sandu, Director of DestinE at ECMWF

In August, a prototype of the global component of the Extremes DT, based on ECMWF’s Integrated Forecasting System (IFS), began producing daily simulations out to five days on ECMWF’s Atos supercomputer at a horizontal resolution of 4.4 km. This represents the highest-resolution global medium-range forecasts ever performed routinely.

The successful prediction of hurricane Idalia as a category 3 storm, just weeks after the DestinE forecasts started, confirmed earlier results that kilometre-scale models can improve predictions of tropical cyclone intensity. Improvements in orographically induced precipitation maxima were also seen. However, there have also been some examples of poor tropical cyclone forecasts. Higher-resolution data assimilation and new ways of modelling convection are two key areas of development that may improve forecasts.

Led by Météo-France, the on-demand regional component of the Extremes DT also progressed well. A configurable and modular sub-kilometre-scale prediction framework was set up, based on the ACCORD system, and runs at resolutions of 500 to 750 m were piloted.

In May 2023, Irina Sandu became the new director for the ECMWF component of DestinE, taking over from Peter Bauer who had been instrumental in the initial development of the initiative.

After such a successful year, we were also delighted to have confirmation in December of the second phase of the initiative, to run from June 2024 for two years.

A boost in funding for artificial intelligence and machine learning highlights the importance of harnessing rapid advances in this area. ECMWF will lead developments towards a machine-learning-based Earth system model that will help to quantify uncertainties of the Earth system DTs and enhance their interactivity capabilities.

Early tests with a prototype global Extremes DT demonstrate the ability to better predict precipitation maxima in mountainous areas such as the Alps with kilometre-scale resolution. The figure shows for example, 78-hour forecasts of precipitation (accumulated over a 24-hour period) for Storm Alex (in October 2020) with the operational IFS (9 km resolution) (top left) and at 4 km (top right) and 2.8 km (bottom left) resolution. Available observations are shown bottom right.

Early tests with a prototype global Extremes DT demonstrate the ability to better predict precipitation maxima in mountainous areas such as the Alps with kilometre-scale resolution. The figure shows for example, 78-hour forecasts of precipitation (accumulated over a 24-hour period) for Storm Alex (in October 2020) with the operational IFS (9 km resolution) (top left) and at 4 km (top right) and 2.8 km (bottom left) resolution. Available observations are shown bottom right.

Destination Earth is a European Union funded initiative and is implemented by three Entrusted Entities, ECMWF, ESA, and EUMETSAT under the leadership of DG CNECT.