Earth System Modelling Strategy (ESM)

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Earth System Modelling (ESM) is central to predicting climate and environmental change. It is also critically important for extrapolating observational data to broader space and time scales and for exploring linkages and feedbacks within the Earth System.

Earth System Models and their components are highly complex pieces of software requiring many person-years to develop and maintain. NERC supports a wide range of ESM related activities, yet there has not been an overall strategic framework for the long term support and development of these models. If the UK is to remain competitive internationally, NERC must ensure existing expertise is not lost, that relevant activities are much more effectively coordinated at a national level, and that new developments are embraced.

This programme consists of two elements:

  • development of a National Strategy for Earth System Modelling
  • implementation of elements of this ESM strategy.

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National Strategy for Earth System Modelling

NERC has made a significant investment in Earth system modelling activities, and now urgently requires a strategic framework for the support and long term development of these models.

The Climate System and Earth System Science Theme Action Plans in 2008 identified ESM activities funded under the QESM (Reading), GENIE (UEA), HiGEM (Reading) and ICOM (Imperial College London) projects as priorities for interim funding, during the development of the strategy. Additional funding for these projects was provided for this work until 31 March 2011.

The first step in developing the strategy was to understand the extent of UK expertise in specific ESM capability and in 2009 NERC commissioned a consultancy company (Assimila Ltd) to undertake this audit of ESM capability and assist with the strategy development process.

An expert strategy group was then convened which used the results of the audit (available below) and appropriate horizon scanning to develop the first draft of the proposal for a NERC Strategy for Earth System Modelling which, together with Annexes to the report, are included below.

Draft ESM strategy (PDF, 95KB)

Annexes to draft ESM strategy (PDF, 971KB)

ESM audit report (PDF, 1.2MB)

Membership of the group includes key experts from the research community in higher education, NERC's research and collaborative centres and the Met Office, and an independent (non-UK) chair.

One of the key elements of the consultation feedback was the governance framework of the ESM and the relationship with the Met Office.

At a bilateral meeting in July 2010 the chief executives of NERC and the Met Office agreed that, 'There is a corporate level commitment from both organisations to develop a joint national Strategy for Earth System Modelling and to develop and maintain a joint UK Earth System Model (UK ESM) built around the Unified Model, as a core part of UK infrastructure.'

This strategy has been developed and was agreed at a subsequent bilateral meeting in January 2011.

NERC and Met Office strategy for Earth System Modelling (PDF, 118KB)

Earth system modelling strategy implementation

This programme will develop some of the priorities identified within the ESM strategy. This action has four elements:

  • Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). The aim is to undertake innovative multi-model analysis of earth system feedbacks and processes using the CMIP5 model runs/data, leading to high-impact science and publications that are likely to be influential in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report.

  • Process-based model evaluation. The goal of this element is to develop innovative methods of integrating observational information that is process-based into the evaluation of global Earth system models.

  • Biogeochemical modelling. It has been identified that with ocean biogeochemical models and offline atmospheric chemistry models there is currently a wide diversity of model approaches in use in the community. In many cases there is disagreement over the appropriate level of complexity to represent particular processes in a global model, and the appropriate metrics to evaluate such models. This activity will support, firstly, the development of robust model metrics, and secondly the demonstration of traceable performance across models of differing complexity.

  • Seabed modelling. A need has been identified to develop models of seabed processes (eg carbon burial in sediment, methane hydrate instability). A small scoping study is proposed to report on priorities and prospects for including seabed processes in ESMs. This would be placed late in the programme period to allow for input from process studies in progress (eg Arctic, Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry).

ESM Strategy Implementation


2011 - 2015

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£3·6 million.

ESM Strategy


2009 - 2011

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There are no calls for funding open.


£1 million.

Programme Awards

Six grants were awarded for the exploitation of CMIP5 capability to generate inputs to IPCC AR5.

View details of CMIP5 awards - external link

Five grants have been awarded under the ESM Strategy Implementation call.

View details of funded applications under the ESM Strategy Implementation call - external link

Two grants were awarded under the Biogeochemical Modelling call.

View details of funded applications under the Biogeochemical Modelling call - external link