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Environmental digital twins are digital environments that simulate aspects of ecosystems in the 'real' world. Over the last few years, the notion of 'digital twins' has emerged as a next generation technology that expands digitalisation of environmental monitoring in different areas.

While digital twins are becoming very popular in manufacturing industries to digitalise production processes, an early example of a type of environmental digital twin can also be found in the context of digital weather forecasting simulations that arose with programmable electronics since the 1950s. Nowadays such simulations rely on data from satellites, meteorological sensors, and algorithms to predict the weather.

Such connected infrastructures that bring together different sources of data, sensors, algorithms, and faster computational capabilities are now also created for 'twinning' other environments and ecosystems. These developments raise questions on what data is included or excluded in these digital environments, who is creating and funding them, and how do they represent and impact different ecosystems. This logbook shares examples of environmental digital twin projects across the world.

Te Papa Tipu Innovation Park, New Zealand

A Digital Twin of the Forest

Pulse of the Forest is a programme to create a biophysical forest hydrology model combining remote sensing techniques with terrestrial based measurements, integrating data as a digital model applicable to planted forests all over New Zealand. Over the next five years, Scion along with its 13 New Zealand and international research collaborators will investigate and quantify the key mechanisms in water use, storage, and release in planted forests.

Screenshot 2023-12-14 at 15.26.20

The Pulse of the Forest project by 'Forest Flows' seeks to create a forest digital twin for hydrological modeling in planted forests [screenshot]. Retrieved December 14, 2023 from https://www.forestflows.nz/

Kajaani, Finland

Biodiversity Digital Twin

BioDT is a European consortium project with 22 partners funded by the European Union. This project is prototyping digital twins with a focus on biodiversity that focus on replicating the interactions of different species with each other and with humans, on genetically detected biodiversity, on species responses to environmental changes, and on dynamics and thread from and for species of policy concern.

This project furthermore intends to utilize the computational capacities of the LUMI Supercomputer, located in a data centre in Kajaani, Finland.

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The BioDT project homepage [screenshot]. Retrieved 14 December, 2023 from https://biodt.eu/

Moorea, French Polynesia

Island Digital Twins

What stands out from the emerging literature and projects on digital twinning is a focus on island ecosystems. Efforts towards creating digital twins of islands argue that islands can be considered as isolated environments on a smaller scale and are therefore highly suitable for digital twin prototypes.

One example includes an article in The Guardian on a digital twin for Tuvalu, a small pacific island that is expected to submerge due to rising sea levels. In this case, the virtual version of the island serves as an archive, or a digital museum, that can preserve the island's cultures, values, and memories.

Another digital twin island project is located on the pacific island in French Polynesia called Moorea. This initiative comprises a scientific effort at digitally mapping biodiversity data of all the island's species. A recent news article in Nature shares more details on this project.

Lastly, a digital twin was developed for the Caribbean island Grenada, with a focus on geospatial data that can be used for sustainability planning, as shared by geospatial tools development company ESRI.

Moorea Digital Twin

Overview of the Digital Twin project on Moorea, a small island in French Polynesia [infographic]. Retrieved December 14, from https://www.moorea.berkeley.edu/idea/tropical-paradise-inspires-virtual-ecology-lab (Credits: Yann Arthus-Bertrand/Corbis).

European Commission, Brussels, Belgium

Destination Earth

Destination Earth (DestinE) is a European Commission flagship initiative that seeks to develop a highly accurate digital model of the Earth on a global scale. This model will monitor, simulate, and predict the interaction between natural phenomena and human activities. It will contribute to achieving the objectives of the twin transition, green and digital as part of the European Commission’s Green Deal and Digital Strategy.

More information on this project can be found on the website of the European Commission as well as on the website of the European Space Agency.

DestinationEarthESA

The Destination Earth project [infographic]. Retrieved December 14, 2023 from https://www.esa.int/Applications/Observing_the_Earth/Destination_Earth

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