Nachrichtenbeitrag

A global digital coral reef: Using simulation to save marine ecosystems

22 September 2022
Chantillion

When we talk about digital twin, we are usually talking in the context of advanced manufacturing or product performance. Often, we’re simulating industrial machines, processes, and designs.

But what if the digital twin could also be applied to solving critical environmental challenges and habitat restoration? Couldn’t we use data to model an approach to restoring complex ecosystems?

That is exactly what Siemens aims for in our collaboration with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the lead in a multidisciplinary, multi-sector partnership funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop the first coral-reef digital twin, providing stakeholders and scientists alike with 21st century technology to manage and conserve coral reefs around the world. This comes at a critical time for coral reefs from Florida to the South Pacific as they face numerous climate-change threats and are declining at a frightening pace never seen before. And yet nearly one billion people around the world rely on coral reefs for their livelihood and community health.

Called the Digital Twin Network for the Coral Reef Blue Economy, the aim of this project is three-fold: First, to provide millions of stakeholders around the world with universal access to intuitive, actionable data and tools, via their desktops, laptops, and mobile phones. The second goal is to promote collaboration amongst stakeholders across the global tropics by creating shared global platform for data analysis and visualization. Third, to create an interconnected global network of digital reefs—in complete, near real-time simulation of actual, living reefs—that informs and supports coral reef management, conservation, and restoration efforts.

Five researchers at Siemens Technology, in the U.S., and in one at Siemens Technology Germany are directly involved in development of this coral-reef digital twin.

Together with their partners at WHOI, UCSD, the Nature Conservancy and with the valuable input of collaborators in several small island Pacific states, the Siemens researchers assisted in the development of a low-fidelity prototype of the Palmyra Atoll Digital Reef which was used in user interviews to acquire input on the content and design. The Siemens team created realistic 4-D visualizations of the coral reef from Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) hydrodynamic model output. These visualizations formed the basis of the low-fidelity prototype. The Siemens team also assisted in user-inspired interviews of a diversity of stakeholders and future users of the tool. Next, the Siemens researchers will create the actual digital-twin tool, complete with four data layers and several decision-support modules.

In addition to Siemens and WHOI, the project team includes The Nature Conservancy, Stanford University, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, the University of Guam, Mote Marine Laboratory the Marshall Islands Conservation Society, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Academy of Marine Research (NAMR) Taiwan, and Ebiil Society, Palau. Each one of these partners brings many researchers to the table who will help brainstorm innovative ways to create user-friendly and user-inspired approaches to the global digital-twin network.

Anywhere in the world, the Blue Economy always has an immediate local impact—it fuels local and regional economies, provides for the livelihoods of coastal communities, and influences coastal infrastructure. It also relies significantly on the health of coral reefs. The better that the stakeholders in the Blue Economy can communicate using the same data, the same visual language, and the same system, the better they can become at long-term coral-reef management.

Our work with NSF and WHOI highlights the boundless opportunities we now have available to us through digital twin technology. The tangible digital twin of the coral reef that Siemens Technology is creating is designed so that it can be utilized by all, no matter someone’s technical background or expertise. We want local communities whose lives are closely tied to coral reefs to access this data and these simulations so that they can help plan the future of the ecosystems in which their people have lived and thrived for centuries. The application of the digital-twin technology in this way can support and promote stewardship of coral reefs among all interested parties.

“What we’re making isn’t simply a digital-twin depiction of coral reefs,” said Siemens Technology project manager Thomas Gruenewald, “it’s a platform to help stakeholders create and visualize ‘what-if’ scenarios in a way that those stakeholders, from research scientists to fishermen, can talk with each other with a common visual language and make better decisions faster.”

The timeline for the project is two years, with completion of the high-fidelity prototype anticipated in mid-2023.

The first working coral-reef digital twin will be based on the Palmyra Atoll, a U.S. territory in the Pacific. After that, the project plan is to create digital-twin model of priority reefs as indicated by a variety of collaborators, including conservation groups and government agencies. When the complete global digital-reef network is operational, it will make use of data, integrated in near-real time, from satellites, sensors, and robotic technologies. Environmental managers, coastal communities, fishermen, and researchers will then all access the same data, depicted in a highly user-friendly way, to engage with each other.

“We can run simulations for the year 2050, for example, and show the user how that would look differently from how [the reef] is right now,” said Lucia Mirabella, a project developer at Siemens Technology.

Anywhere in the world, the Blue Economy always has an immediate local impact—it fuels local and regional economies, provides for the livelihoods of coastal communities, and influences coastal infrastructure. It also relies significantly on the health of coral reefs. The better that the stakeholders in the Blue Economy can communicate using the same data, the same visual language, and the same system, the better they can become at long-term coral-reef management. The global network of digital reefs will be that management system. Through digital-enabled collaboration, we can work to save our planet’s marine ecosystem.

The National Science Foundation has more information online about the Digital Twin Network for the Coral Reef Blue Economy.