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Digital Twins


A Digital Twin of the Earth is an information system that exposes users to a digital replication of the state and temporal evolution of the Earth system constrained by available observations and the laws of physics.

Digital Twins can help to regionalize and visualize possible future scenarios depending on human actions. As such they can guide development options and spatial planning to future-proof the intertwined human and environmental systems. Digital Twins answer ‘what if’ questions.

The project team gathers ideas and thoughts on their modelling and Digital Twins research. The partners agreed on a common definition of what a ”Digital Twin“ is within the Helmholtz Earth and Environment community.

The synthesis paper Digital Twins of Planet Earth provides an overview of research on digital twins in the Helmholtz research field Earth & Environment. The newest version can be downloaded here.


A digital twin (DT) is a virtual representation of a real process or object with a two way connection between the two. This means that changes in the real-world object can be incorporated into a DT in near real-time, and varying boundary/initial conditions or parameters of the DT can be used to simulate potential 'what-if' scenarios of the real object. The use of a digital twin concept has a long tradition in industrial engineering and design to optimize desirable outcomes. The rapid development of digital technology, with the exponential increase in the performance of processors and electronic memories, is now enabling us to also build digital twins of the highly complex Earth system full of interconnected processes arose, providing an effective decision-making tool to optimize human interventions.

Digital Twins in Helmholtz Earth & Environment: 

The concept of Digital Twins (DTs) in Helmholtz Earth & Environment aims to create sophisticated digital representations of the Earth's subsystems. These DTs will integrate diverse data streams, enabling detailed and dynamic modeling. Key areas for DTs include climate, oceans, geo risks, water, forests, urban development, and bioeconomy.

A major initiative with contributions from Helmholtz Earth & Environment scientist is the EU's Destination Earth project, which focuses on developing high-resolution DTs to better understand climate impacts and inform decision-making. The Digital Twin of the Climate System will provide data at kilometer-scale resolution, improving the ability to plan and respond to climate-related events. This DT will integrate advanced physical models, reducing reliance on approximations and allowing more precise predictions.

The Digital Twin of the Ocean (DTO) addresses the critical role of oceans in the Earth system. Despite advancements in marine observation networks, many regions remain under-monitored. DTOs aim to create interoperable systems to enhance data clarity and address observation gaps. Hybrid approaches using AI will enhance the accuracy and utility of ocean models for decision-makers.

For geophysical extremes, the EU project DT-GEO focuses on predicting and analyzing the impacts of events like earthquakes and tsunamis. This initiative involves real-time data integration to improve early warning systems and hazard assessments.

Terrestrial systems DTs aim to model the interactions between abiotic and biotic processes. These DTs will provide essential data for sustainable land management and bioeconomy, addressing challenges such as biodiversity loss and soil health. A specific focus is on water systems, with a planned Water Twin to continuously interact with climate models for improved hydrological forecasting.

In urban areas, DTs will assist in planning and responding to climate impacts, incorporating high-resolution data to model urban climates and infrastructure. These DTs will enable cities to adapt to climate change more effectively, using real-time data for responsive planning.

Digital twins for sustainable bioeconomy focus on creating sustainable material cycles based on renewable raw materials and significantly contribute to sustainable development.

© Jan Pauls Fotografie

© Jan Pauls Fotografie

General Assembly 2023

Sabine Attinger and Thomas Jung introduced the project and the first draft of the synthesis-paper: "Digital Twins of Planet Earth" at the General Assembly of Helmholtz Earth & Environment. Until September 2023, scientists of Helmholtz Earth & Environment are invited to complement and revise the first draft of the synthesis-paper. The final synthesis paper will be presented at the annual general meeting of the Helmholtz Office in Brussels in September 2024.


Prof. Dr. Martin Visbeck: mvisbeck@geomar.de

Prof. Dr. Thomas Jung: Thomas.Jung@awi.de

Prof. Dr. Sabine Attinger: sabine.attinger@ufz.de

Synthesis Paper Digital Twins

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