Skip to content
Contact Support


The Community Earth System Model (CESM) is a coupled climate model for simulating Earth’s climate system. Composed of separate models simultaneously simulating the Earth’s atmosphere, ocean, land, river run-off, land-ice, and sea-ice, plus one central coupler/moderator component, CESM allows researchers to conduct fundamental research into the Earth’s past, present, and future climate states.

Here we provide a guide for downloading, building and running a CESM test case yourself on NeSI. This guide is based on CESM 2.1 and should work on both Māui and Mahuika.


Mahuika only

On Mahuika only, load a module with a more recent version of git than the default one:

module load git

You should ensure the git module is still loaded when running git commands later on in this guide.


It should be safe to load the git module in your ~/.bashrc (or other shell init file), since it shouldn't conflict with other modules, but if you use Māui too you should wrap it in a block such as:

if [[ "${SYSTEM_STRING}" == "CS400" ]]; then
    module load git

This will ensure the module load git command only runs on Mahuika.

Māui only

On Māui only, you may need to install the Perl XML::LibXML module, especially if you encounter errors like:

err=Can't locate XML/ in @INC (you may need to install the XML::LibXML module)

You can install the module with the following:

curl -L []( | perl - App::cpanminus 
cpanm XML::LibXML

Then export the path the module was installed to so that it is picked up by Perl:

export PERL5LIB=~/perl5/lib/perl5/x86_64-linux-thread-multi

The export command above could be added to your ~/.bashrc file to make it persistent but make sure you wrap it in a block that ensures the environment variable is only set on Māui (if you are likely to use Mahuika too), for example:

if [[ "${SYSTEM_STRING}" == "XC50" ]]; then
    export PERL5LIB=~/perl5/lib/perl5/x86_64-linux-thread-multi

Mahuika and Māui

Git Large File Storage seems to be required to download some of the CESM components. Download the Git-LFS archive from here and install it into your home directory. Finally, add that directory to PATH in your ~/.bashrc file. The following commands will achieve this:

tar xf git-lfs-linux-amd64-v3.5.1.tar.gz
cd git-lfs-3.5.1
./ --local
export PATH=~/.local/bin:$PATH
echo export PATH=\$HOME/.local/bin:\$PATH >> ~/.bashrc

Confirm Git-LFS is installed by running:

git lfs version

which should print something like:

git-lfs/3.5.1 (GitHub; linux amd64; go 1.21.7; git e237bb3a)

Download CESM

First, set an environment with your NeSI project code to make replacing our default one easier in the commands below (replacing <your_project_code> with your project code):

export PROJECT_CODE=<your_project_code>

These instructions are based on the upstream documentation. First switch to your project directory (or wherever else you would like the CESM source to live) and then run the commands to download CESM:

cd /nesi/project/${PROJECT_CODE}
git clone -b release-cesm2.1.5 my_cesm_sandbox
cd my_cesm_sandbox

Make sure the above command is successful (see the upstream documentation linked above for how to check). You may need to rerun the command until it is successful, especially if it asks you to accept a certificate.

NeSI specific CIME configuration

Make sure you still have the environment variable set with your project code:

export PROJECT_CODE=<your_project_code>

Clone the repo containing NeSI specific CIME configuration (CIME provides a case control system for configuring, building and executing Earth system models) and copy the config files to ~/.cime (this will overwrite any current configuration your have in ~/.cime):

cd /nesi/project/${PROJECT_CODE}
git clone
cd nesi-cesm-config
mkdir -p ~/.cime
sed "s/nesi99999/${PROJECT_CODE}/g" config_machines.xml > ~/.cime/config_machines.xml
cp config_batch.xml ~/.cime/config_batch.xml
cp config_compilers.xml ~/.cime/config_compilers.xml

Check that you are happy with the paths specified in ~/.cime/config_machines.xml, in particular, it is recommended that CESM users share the same input data locations as the input data can be large.

Make sure that the directory pointed to by DIN_LOC_ROOT in ~/.cime/config_machines.xml exists, e.g.

mkdir -p /nesi/nobackup/${PROJECT_CODE}/cesm/inputdata

Setting up and running a test case

Make sure you still have the environment variable set with your project code:

export PROJECT_CODE=<your_project_code>

Here we will run the test described in the CESM quick start guide. The following are basic instructions to create and run the case, see the above link for more information.

Change to the cime/scripts directory:

cd /nesi/project/${PROJECT_CODE}/my_cesm_sandbox/cime/scripts

Create the case directory:

./create_newcase \
    --case /nesi/nobackup/${PROJECT_CODE}/$USER/cesm/output/b.e20.B1850.f19_g17.test \
    --compset B1850 --res f19_g17 --machine mahuika --compiler gnu

In the above command:

  • --machine mahuika could be changed to --machine maui if you are running on Māui
  • --compiler gnu could be changed to --compiler intel if you want to build with the Intel compilers instead of GNU (it can be useful to compare different compilers in case one performs much better)
  • the name of the directory for --case (i.e. b.e20.B1850.f19_g17.test in this example) is arbitrary

Change to the new case directory that you just created:

cd /nesi/nobackup/${PROJECT_CODE}/$USER/cesm/output/b.e20.B1850.f19_g17.test

On Mahuika only: we will now adjust the number of processors (tasks) the simulation will run on. This case is configured to run on 6 full nodes by default but we're just running a short test, so let's reduce the maximum number of tasks per node, keeping the layout between different components the same:

./xmlchange MAX_TASKS_PER_NODE=32
./xmlchange MAX_MPITASKS_PER_NODE=32

Changes to the number of processors/tasks and layout must be made before calling case.setup. More details about modifying a case can be found in the CESM documentation and also in ARCHER2's CESM documentation.

Let's also reduce the wall time (which will default to the maximum value otherwise):

./xmlchange --subgroup JOB_WALLCLOCK_TIME="00:20:00"

Next, set up the case and preview the run:


Check that everything looks correct in the preview. On Mahuika you should see that the case is setup to run on 192 total tasks:

  nodes: 6
  total tasks: 192
  tasks per node: 32
  thread count: 1

On Māui this should show 240 total tasks and 40 tasks per node, unless you changed those above.

Now build the case (this could take a while if it needs to download input data):


Update any other settings as necessary, for example here we turn off short term archiving:

./xmlchange DOUT_S=FALSE

Finally, run the job (this could take a while if it needs to download input data):


A job will be submitted to the Slurm queue, you can view the queue using squeue --me. Check the job succeeded as described on the upstream quick start guide.

Performance tuning - optimising processor layout

With CESM it can be important to tune the processor layout for best performance with respect to the different components (atmosphere, land, sea ice, etc.). Many different configurations are possible, although there are some hard coded constraints, and this is well documented in CIME (the case control system used by CESM):

The above link lists some of the common configurations, such as fully sequential or fully sequential except the ocean running concurrently.

One approach to load balancing (i.e. optimising processor layout) is documented on the above page in the section "One approach to load balancing" here. It involves performing a number of short model runs to determine which components are most expensive and how the individual components scale. That information can then be used to determine an optimal load balance.