Climate Change Prompts Caribbean Island to Create its Digital Twin

A report by Priya Chadha for Geospatial World.

Grenada, a small, sparsely populated Caribbean nation that garnered global headlines in 1983 and briefly became a hotspot in the Cold War radar due to political turmoil, coup, counter-coup and the four-day US invasion, has become the world’s first country to create a digital replica of itself, a 3D model government officials can use for sustainability plans.

Why digital twin model?

Digital twins provide greater context to solve business challenges by creating relationships and streamlining workflows. Geographic Information System (GIS) experts within Grenada’s government decided to extend the country’s twin nationwide. Mandatory for making digital twins truly operational, GIS stores and displays disparate datasets that share locational components. These interactive and collaborative 3D models can then be used to drive better decision-making and policies at a larger scale than previous systems allowed.

But the island nation, like many others, is in deep crisis. Uncertainty is hovering over its future in the face of climate change.

Though there are challenges like rising mercury levels, intense rainfall and saltwater intrusion into water supply and soil (which are a threat to the country’s two primary economies — agriculture and tourism) to sail through the situation, the island country is looking to sustainable growth and trying to adapt to the changing environment. But this would require a geographic approach — understanding what is actually going on in the country.

World Bank to the rescue

To tide over the crisis, the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved a budget allocation of USD 25 million for Grenada’s First Recovery and Resilience Programmatic Development Policy Credit. Before the pandemic, Grenada’s steadfast reform path to building economic resilience had attained solid growth, debt sustainability, and poverty reduction. However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused massive socio-economic impacts, which are expected to exacerbate the pre-existing vulnerabilities of Grenada as a small island developing state.

On the country trying to survive and thrive after the pandemic blow, Lilia Burunciuc, World Bank Country Director for Caribbean countries, said, “While COVID-19 has slowed growth, the Government of Grenada continues to work to enhance climate resilience, diversify the economy and encourage inclusive growth.” said Lilia Burunciuc,.

“The country is poised for sustainable recovery by including a sound disaster risk management framework, increased digitalization, and wider use of renewable energy in this operation.”

Making lives better

Grenada used its countrywide LiDAR and high-resolution imagery to create a digital twin of the country. This digital twin was used to create maps such as a landslide susceptibility map to test how infrastructure would be affected. GIS enabled Grenada officials to stack the imagery and point-cloud data. These could be consumed as separate map layers but could also be combined to create something functionally larger than the sum of its parts.

With its 20 cm resolution, the resulting aerial imagery produced a data-rich, detailed representation of the island. Linking the 3D LiDAR data brings the imagery into full relief. Government officials ultimately sought to use the country’s digital twin to improve the lives of its residents, who are at the mercy of a swiftly changing ecosystem.

The government hired Fugro, which surveyed the Caribbean nation’s three major islands, as well as six smaller ones. The result was a treasure trove of information, including a LiDAR point cloud and extensive aerial images. However, for practical purposes, there appeared to be no way to organize all this valuable information, until the ministry decided to use GIS technology to create a digital twin.

The digital twin can also serve as an ongoing historical record. For example, the LiDAR data identified 4.5 million trees, and, if more aerial data is gathered at points in the future, the twin’s GIS can analyze tree growth and note any significant deforestation. The power of a GIS-powered digital twin is that it enhances human observation. While a digital twin can’t literally see into the future, it is a window into several potential futures. However, none of this would be possible without highly accurate imagery data and geospatial technology that ties geographic information together. These collaborative technologies are turning data into something meaningful, viewable, measurable, and, ultimately, actionable.

Another problem plaguing Grenada is the change in the abundance, size, and distribution of fish for both reef and pelagic fish species. The impacts will affect Grenada fisheries by changing fish distributions and abundance, degrading marine habitats and their ability to support healthy fish stocks, and increasing safety risks to fisherfolk, their equipment, and the communities they support.

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