Mercator Ocean International (MOi) hosted the first Digital Ocean Forum in Paris on the 20th to 21st of April, 2022. It was organized by MOi under the auspices of the European Commission and the French Ministry of the Sea in the context of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The Digital Ocean Forum was created in response to several initiatives including EU Mission “Restore our Oceans and Seas by 2030”. Moreover, it is first step toward goals discussed at the One Ocean Summit on 11 February 2022 in Brest (France) towards the construction of the European Digital Twin Ocean (DTO) using European Assets such as Copernicus and EMODnet.
The European Digital Twin of the Ocean is launched
At the One Ocean Summit hosted by the French Presidency of the Council of the EU in February 2022, more than 40 countries united to put the Ocean at the heart of the international political agenda. To strengthen EU leadership in protecting the Ocean, European Commission President von der Leyen launched the European Digital Twin Ocean (DTO) to support the framework of the EU Mission Restore Our Ocean and Waters by 2030 and to enable the ambition of the European Green Deal. At the One Ocean Summit, von der Leyen explained:
“The ocean is still largely a great mystery for humankind. That is why Europe is building a digital twin of the ocean. We are connecting our assets – like the Copernicus satellites, marine infrastructure like icebreakers, buoys and underwater drones, and high-performance computing. We will gather the raw data and turn it into real-time knowledge and longer-term predictions. We are putting the power of the digital revolution at the service of our climate. (…) Thanks to the EU and its Member States, a digital twin should be operational by 2024. It will make ocean knowledge open-access, available to citizens, scientists and policymakers around the world. It will be a platform for global cooperation. It is about putting the capabilities in place to achieve the commitments we make at this Summit. Together, with the digital twin, we will turn the lights on in the ocean.”– European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
The European Commission is investing €13 million to develop a core European DTO. This complements the €19 million project, Iliad, funded under the Green Deal Call for research proposals to pilot the DTO concept.
On 20 April 2022, more than 70 experts from 20 countries across Europe came together in Paris to develop a common vision for a European DTO and agreements on how to move forward together to meet this transformational challenge.
This event is part of the agenda of the French Presidency of the Council of the EU and was developed in collaboration with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research (DG RTD) and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE), as well as the Directorate-General for Defense Industry and Space (DG DEFIS), Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CNECT), and the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).
The first day of the event was closed and included five Working Groups (WG), each tasked with exploring and elaborating on different facets of the future DTO. Each WG was led by a chairperson together with a European Commission representative and a Mercator Ocean International (MOi) coordinator along with related experts to collate findings and goals. The second day consisted of a high-level event open to the public in which highlights of the each working group along with presentations from a host of experts were showcased.
Forum Highlights: Fundamental Design and Collaboration Needs
A comprehensive report will be presented to the European Commission by the end of May that compiles and synthesizes the guidance received throughout this process. Experts at the Forum also highlighted key areas requiring continued communication and collaboration across European DTO partners:
- Work together to achieve key breakthroughs by 2024: A shared vision, communication, collaboration across European DTO activities / Increased user engagement and co-design / Increased model reliability and uncertainty estimation / Increased ocean knowledge, improved uptake of models by different sectors, collaborations with ocean literacy / Augmented outputs for societal applications of Digital Twins to describe interactions between the natural system and human activities / A European DTO community established to facilitate alignment and interoperability with Destination Earth / The European DTO is recognized as a building block of the EU Ocean Mission knowledge system / The European DTO contributes to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
- Establish the services to be provided by the European DTO: Access to data; Data ingestion service / Access to computing capacity, virtual lab, and tools / On-demand modeling / processing service / Plug-ins and coupling to other twins’ service / What-if scenario service / Visualization / User support and workflow management / Marketplace service / Collaborative tools.
- Co-design digital ocean knowledge systems with users (policy, science, industry, citizens). Regular engagement with representatives of user groups is necessary to ensure that the ocean knowledge service generated by new digital ocean systems is fit-for-purpose. Early Career Ocean Professionals should be engaged as privileged partners in DTO co-design and development.
- Ensure alignment and enable integration of European DTO activities and outputs with other digital initiatives including the international DTO programme (DITTO) of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and Destination Earth.
- Establish agreed standards and taxonomy. Accessibility and quality of data requires using and/or developing accepted European or international standards. Standards should be considered on all levels, from taxonomy to vocabularies to formats to Application Programming Interfaces.
- Work with the Commission to ensure that European projects enter their data into European data systems for use by all (EMODnet, Copernicus Marine Service, research infrastructures, etc.).
- Make best use of Artificial Intelligence to maximize the potential of a DTO. Artificial intelligence techniques are revolutionizing ocean science and is a key success factor of a DTO. AI will deliver the necessary improved process understanding for a DTO, combining advanced machine-learning methods and ocean ecosystem models based on physics-guided machine learning and causal reasoning.
- Ensure that the DTO ocean knowledge system is based not only on scientific and technical aspects but also ‘ethics by design’, integrating concerns for social well-being and human rights. The European DTO will follow the “EU Ethical Guidelines for Trustworthy AI”.
- Recognize that DTO output and scenarios may need expert interpretation by scientists for use by the public. The European DTO community should identify and limit risks of misuse and misinterpretation without imposing restrictions.
- Address observation and knowledge gaps that limit DTO development through the development of a regularly updated science plan.