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Can AI unlock the secrets of the deep sea and help us make better decisions?

Ocean Calls. Season 3. Episode 2.
Ocean Calls. Season 3. Episode 2.
By Naira DavlashyanJeremy Wilks
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In this episode, we will discuss the Digital Twin of the Ocean. We explore the goals of this EU initiative and examine how it can aid in combating plastic pollution, saving endangered species like marine turtles, and protecting our harbours from meteotsunamis.


Imagine if policymakers, businesses, and society had access to a virtual twin copy of our oceans to explore? This AI tool could simulate realistic what-if scenarios based on scientific knowledge.

Would that help protect and restore our oceans by enabling better decision-making? As the EU is preparing to launch the Digital Twin of the Ocean (DTO), the European scientific community thinks it could be a game-changing project.

"Think of artificial intelligence as a tool that helps us to predict and understand what is going on in the ocean," says Joanna Staneva, a physicist at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon research centre in Germany in this new episode of Euronews podcast Ocean Calls.

Set to debut later in 2024, the DTO aims to revolutionise our understanding of the seas through AI and visualisation tools.

Since 2021, the EU has been investing 10 million euros a year into the core of the project which is destined to be a public service. It will incorporate data from European scientific bodies like Copernicus or Mercator Ocean International, but also universities and research centres.

In theory, everything that we know about the ocean will be integrated together and made available online for everyone to play with.

To Staneva, the DTO is a 'fantastic tool': “We can show the different scenarios related to climate change in order to mitigate the problems, in order to understand the impacts, but most importantly to find the different solutions in respect of climate change”.

The DTO's primary objective is to empower policymakers, businesses, and society with science-based decision-making tools.

'Uncertainties of the solution'

From species conservation to the effective management of marine protected areas, the EU's DTO could have many practical applications.

“This is knowledge that should not just remain in the hands of scientists. This is knowledge that needs to be used to develop activities in the ocean,” says Simon Van Gennip, an oceanographer at Mercator-Ocean International, who highlights the DTO's potential in combating plastic pollution.

By leveraging AI and ocean circulation models, the researcher works on a model that can predict the movement of plastic debris over a period of time, and even look back in time to see where it came from.

When the model is ready and uploaded on the DTO, this information could be invaluable to local activists and governments, but also, for example, to businesses who want to become more sustainable.

“If we know where this plastic most potentially comes from, we can actually work together in trying to target our action plan for mitigating this plastic”, explains van Gennip.

He highlights, however, the challenges linked to the so-called 'uncertainties of the solution'.

“There are small errors, when we reproduce the currents every day. So if we move our plastic we sort of accumulate a little bit of errors. So after a long period of time, let's say after two years, we cannot guarantee that a piece of plastic that was left one place is actually where we diagnosed it to be," he says.

The solution according could be adding more quality data to the Digital Twin of the Ocean and developing other models. “If we only use one model, we only have one solution. The idea is that if we can use multiple models, we're gonna, we're going to have a cloud of solutions," he explains.

Listen to the full episode of Ocean Calls to find out how it can help in saving endangered species like marine turtles, and protecting our harbours from meteotsunamis.

At the end of the episode, Sex Education and Karen Pirie star Chris Jenks tells us all about his adventures growing up on an island in Scotland.


Ocean Calls is produced in partnership with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

Journalist • Naira Davlashyan

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