Long read

Digital twins: the cornerstone of the Ocean Decade vision


13 Oct 2023


Marco Filippone – Global Lead - Hydrography

Digital twins of the ocean are fast becoming the cornerstone of the Ocean Decade initiative. By integrating and making sense of a huge range of ocean science data (historical and real-time), they are enhancing the world’s understanding of the ocean, the risks that lie ahead and how to mitigate them.

Digital twins’ technology, employed in marine applications, combines hydrographic datasets and oceanographic information to generate interactive and dynamic virtual representations of the ocean, its subsurface, and marine assets. The knowledge and insights offered by digital twins, along with their extensive modelling and forecasting capabilities, are playing a crucial role in efforts to preserve the health of the ocean.

Lidar dataset showing urban infrastructure, vegetation and water bodies.
A coastal mapping project in Jamaica and Haiti to support The Investment Plan for the Caribbean Regional Track of the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience.

A digital twin of Jamaica’s coastal environment captured by lidar

The importance of our ocean

The ocean is vital to life as we know it, serving as a source of food, energy, trade, recreation, and employment. It also plays a crucial role in influencing climate and weather patterns. It is in the best interests of all to safeguard this remarkable and fragile natural resource. However, humanity continues to jeopardise its long-term health. In the relentless and often self-centred pursuit of progress, we have left behind a trail of intractable problems, including overexploitation, biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change.

Modelling the impact of ocean changes on climate and biodiversity

The foundation for creating a digital twin of the ocean starts with data collected from hydrographic surveys. This dataset serves as the foundation for constructing a virtual representation of the ocean and its associated marine assets. Subsequently, the digital twin is linked and synchronised with real-time observation data. This synchronisation extends to real-world information gathered from remote sensors, encompassing but not limited to measurements of wind, tide, current, and sea temperature, among others.

Additionally, historical data and forecasts can be seamlessly integrated into this dataset. It's important to emphasise that the digital twin remains connected to real-time data in the physical world. Harnessing sophisticated software and algorithms, this data undergoes processing and analysis, including filtering, normalisation, and transformation to ensure its accuracy and utility. Leveraging data science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning technologies, the system taps into its continually expanding data repository, culminating in the creation of a comprehensive model with predictive capabilities.

Unlike the digital twin, this model operates in isolation from the real world. With this wealth of information at their disposal, data scientists can employ the digital twin model to simulate a multitude of 'what if' scenarios concerning various facets of the ocean. These scenarios may encompass aspects such as ocean currents, temperature fluctuations, ecosystems, and responses to diverse environmental conditions or operational variables, including climate and biodiversity. This capability proves invaluable for studying and managing the health and sustainability of our marine environments. One example might involve assessing the consequences of a five-degree increase in sea temperature on ocean currents, polar ice caps, and marine life. This technology empowers us to explore and comprehend the potential impacts of environmental changes on our oceans.

Fugro SIMmetry� GIS tool showing the simulated flood effects of sea level rise.
A coastal mapping project in Jamaica and Haiti to support The Investment Plan for the Caribbean Regional Track of the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience.

Visualisation of digital twins can assist in understanding the impacts of sea level rise to coastal communities

Modelling the interaction of the ocean and human activity

Digital twin technology offers a secure, digital testing environment that empowers ocean scientists to deepen their comprehension of intricate ocean processes and their interactions with human activities. It proves invaluable in facilitating decision-making processes across industries closely linked to the ocean. For instance, a digital twin can simulate the long-term efficacy of measures like breakwaters in safeguarding a port against rising sea levels or rare, once in 100-year or once in 500-year storm events.

Furthermore, it can project the repercussions of a five-degree increase in sea temperature: if this leads to the demise of sea grasses, it will result in reduced biodiversity and the loss of crucial nurseries for young fish, potentially devastating the fishing industry. Moreover, digital twin technology can model entire marine ecosystems, including the intricate relationships between species, habitats, and environmental factors. This modelling aids in making informed choices regarding marine protected areas, fisheries management, and conservation initiatives.

Envisioning an ideal future scenario, we see a thriving blue economy that coexists harmoniously with a vibrant and protected marine environment.

OWF cable routing

Digital twins can support the correct placement of offshore infrastructure

Enhancing our understanding of climate change

Digital twins are instrumental in realising the vision of the Ocean Decade, which seeks 'the science we need for the ocean we want.' They seamlessly complement traditional climate models by continuously enriching them with real-world, remotely collected data. Additionally, they offer valuable insights into the intricate relationship between the ocean and Earth's changing climate.

Digital twin modelling is already empowering evidence-based decisions for sustainable ocean management and climate adaptation measures, benefiting both current and future generations. It fosters collaboration among government agencies, maritime industries, and environmental organisations by:

  • Providing access to a vast pool of data, information, and insights, fundamentally reshaping the decision-making process.

  • Standardising data formats, facilitating real-time monitoring and predictive modelling, which in turn aids in the development of strategies to mitigate and adapt.

  • Supporting efforts aimed at healing the ocean.

Digital twins serve as a powerful tool that bridges the gap between scientific understanding and practical action, offering the potential to safeguard our oceans and ensure a sustainable future.

Optimising the marine environment and maritime industries

In the digital era, there's a clear trend toward integrating data from diverse sources and ensuring its accessibility. Digital twin technology aligns perfectly with this trend, offering a framework that facilitates the integration and utilisation of data and information from various sources, including real-time data from remote sensing devices.

As we move forward, it's a matter of when, not if, the maritime industry will adopt digital twins to optimise supply chains and operational processes. Imagine a scenario where a port uses this technology to optimise the arrival time of a container ship. Factors to consider may encompass the ship's size, weight, container count, estimated journey time, as well as weather conditions, port activity, and train timetables —all to ensure efficient cargo handling and onward transportation.

To conclude

The potential applications of digital twin technology in advancing ocean resource management are truly boundless and inspiring. Digital twins possess the remarkable capacity to deepen our understanding of the oceans, fostering sustainable management practices and promoting collaboration among stakeholders. These versatile and adaptive tools play a pivotal role in advancing the goals of the Ocean Decade by seamlessly integrating data, modelling complex systems, and delivering real-time and predictive insights. They are an invaluable asset in our collective endeavour to safeguard and effectively manage our oceans and coastlines, working towards a safe and liveable world.

Fugro employees taking part in a practical training session in the operation of uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) on board the WillChallenge on Southampton Water. The course is run by trainers from CEbotix. 24 March 2022. 
Fugro Middle East personnel have completed the world's first Maritime Autonomous Surface Systems (MASS) professional certified training delivered by SeaBot XR at their training academy CEbotiX, the National Centre for Operational Excellence in Marine Robotics based in Southampton, UK.



We work together with you to tailor a solution that meets your quality, sustainability, schedule, and cost requirements for your project. How? By quickly collecting high-quality data and using remote technology. Plus, our global network of qualified hydrographic surveyors are equipped with local experience and knowledge. Helping you wherever you’re at.

Find out more