Digital twins could help secure entire water systems

The Digital Waters Flagship programme will be centred at the University of Oulu. Image: Suomen Ilmakuva Oy

Digital technologies are set to make a huge impact on the way water is managed across the world, and a new centre of excellence in Finland hopes to bridge the knowledge gap on the water-cycle.

The Digital Waters Flagship partnership will enable digital modelling of entire water systems - creating 'digital twins' of water systems. A digital twin is a virtual representation of an object or system across its lifecycle. It is updated from real-time data, and uses simulation, machine-learning and reasoning to support decision-making.

Digital twins can be used to model water resources and their use, and can be used to assess the impact of decision-making on surface and groundwater. This is challenging because real-time data on climate, soils and water systems are needed over hundreds of kilometres and across national borders.

"Water is a critical natural resource which is difficult to manage, and where digital solutions are rapidly needed."

Professor Björn Klöve, University of Oulu

”The Digital Waters Flagship will bridge the knowledge gap on the water-cycle by bringing together scattered research on a source-to-sea basis, in other words on a catchment basis," says Professor Björn Klöve, director of the Digital Waters Flagship programme at the University of Oulu. "By combining measurement data on climate, land and water through digital innovation, we support sustainable solutions to avoid the serious consequences of global changes on water-cycles, the environment and socio-economic systems."

The digitalisation of water resources will improve the management and security of water systems and their distribution and use, including flooding or drought. Digital water management also helps to balance the objectives and needs of industry, energy, agriculture and forestry in a sustainable way.

The Digital Waters Flagship partnership will initially involve 276 organisations including Finnish and international universities and research institutes, and nearly 200 companies, public bodies and NGOs.

Vice-rector for research at the University of Oulu, Taina Pihlajaniemi, said, "The Digital Waters Flagship is a perfect fit for the University of Oulu, which is located near the large water systems of the North. Our cutting-edge research and the knowledge of our partners contribute to the protection of water resources worldwide through our extensive international cooperation.

The city of Oulu is located near the large water systems of northern Finland. Image: Janne Leimola / Unsplash

"The Flagship decision reinforces the University of Oulu's position as a leading research environment for hydrology and water engineering.”

Finnish Flagships are large centres of excellence generating high-quality research with wide-ranging scientific and societal impact potential, in collaboration with the business community and other stakeholders. The Digital Waters Flagship aims to become a leading research and innovation ecosystem in the water sector, supporting decision-making, and paving the way for the next revolution in water - digitally.

The water sector has a multi-billion business potential worldwide, which is expected to grow rapidly. Climate change, biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and water scarcity require additional investments that increase the value of water. The flagship partnership creates new opportunities for companies to develop products to address major societal challenges, the University says.

"Solutions driven by the Digital Waters Flagship are urgently needed because water is a critical natural resource which is difficult to manage and where digital solutions are rapidly needed," said Professor Klöve.