5. Building simple climate models using climlab#

This notebook is part of The Climate Laboratory by Brian E. J. Rose, University at Albany.

1. Introducing climlab#

About climlab#

climlab [Rose, 2018] is a specialized python package for process-oriented climate modeling.

It is based on a very general concept of a model as a collection of individual, interacting processes. climlab defines a base class called Process, which can contain an arbitrarily complex tree of sub-processes (each also some sub-class of Process). Every climate process (radiative, dynamical, physical, turbulent, convective, chemical, etc.) can be simulated as a stand-alone process model given appropriate input, or as a sub-process of a more complex model. New classes of model can easily be defined and run interactively by putting together an appropriate collection of sub-processes.

climlab is an open-source community project. The latest code can always be found on github:


Installing climlab#

If you’ve followed these instructions from the Climate Laboratory book, then you should be all set – climlab is automatically installed as part of the suite of tools used in The Climate Laboratory.

If you are maintaining your own Python installation (e.g. on a personal laptop), you can always install climlab by doing

conda install -c conda-forge climlab

2. Using climlab to implement the zero-dimensional energy balance model#

The model equation (recap)#

Recall that we have worked with a zero-dimensional Energy Balance Model

\[ C \frac{dT_s}{dt} = (1-\alpha) Q - \tau \sigma T_s^4 \]

Here we are going to implement this exact model using climlab.

Yes, we have already written code to implement this model, but we are going to repeat this effort here as a way of learning how to use climlab.

There are tools within climlab to implement much more complicated models, but the basic interface will be the same.

Create the state variables for the model#

#  As usual, we start with some import statements.
%matplotlib inline
import numpy as np
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import climlab  # import climlab just like any other package
# create a zero-dimensional domain with a single surface temperature
state = climlab.surface_state(num_lat=1,  # a single point
                              water_depth = 100.,  # 100 meters slab of water (sets the heat capacity)
AttrDict({'Ts': Field([[32.]])})

Here we have created a dictionary called state with a single item called Ts:


This dictionary holds the state variables for our model – which is this case is a single number! It is a temperature in degrees Celsius.

For convenience, we can access the same data as an attribute (which lets us use tab-autocomplete when doing interactive work):


It is also possible to see this state dictionary as an xarray.Dataset object:

Dimensions:       (depth: 1, lat: 1, depth_bounds: 2, lat_bounds: 2)
  * depth         (depth) float64 50.0
  * lat           (lat) float64 0.0
  * depth_bounds  (depth_bounds) float64 0.0 100.0
  * lat_bounds    (lat_bounds) float64 -90.0 90.0
Data variables:
    Ts            (depth, lat) float64 32.0

Create the subcomponents of the model#

delta_t = 60. * 60. * 24. * 30.  # 30 days, or about 1 month!

#  create the longwave radiation process
olr = climlab.radiation.Boltzmann(name='OutgoingLongwave',
                                  tau = 0.612,
                                  eps = 1.,
                                  timestep = delta_t)
#  Look at what we just created
climlab Process of type <class 'climlab.radiation.boltzmann.Boltzmann'>. 
State variables and domain shapes: 
  Ts: (1, 1) 
The subprocess tree: 
OutgoingLongwave: <class 'climlab.radiation.boltzmann.Boltzmann'>
#  create the shortwave radiation process
asr = climlab.radiation.SimpleAbsorbedShortwave(name='AbsorbedShortwave',
                                                timestep = delta_t)
#  Look at what we just created
climlab Process of type <class 'climlab.radiation.absorbed_shorwave.SimpleAbsorbedShortwave'>. 
State variables and domain shapes: 
  Ts: (1, 1) 
The subprocess tree: 
AbsorbedShortwave: <class 'climlab.radiation.absorbed_shorwave.SimpleAbsorbedShortwave'>

Create the model by coupling the subcomponents#

#  couple them together into a single model
ebm = climlab.couple([olr,asr])
#  Give the parent process name
ebm.name = 'EnergyBalanceModel'
#  Examine the model object
climlab Process of type <class 'climlab.process.time_dependent_process.TimeDependentProcess'>. 
State variables and domain shapes: 
  Ts: (1, 1) 
The subprocess tree: 
EnergyBalanceModel: <class 'climlab.process.time_dependent_process.TimeDependentProcess'>
   OutgoingLongwave: <class 'climlab.radiation.boltzmann.Boltzmann'>
   AbsorbedShortwave: <class 'climlab.radiation.absorbed_shorwave.SimpleAbsorbedShortwave'>

The object called ebm here is the entire model – including its current state (the temperature Ts) as well as all the methods needed to integrated forward in time!

The current model state, accessed two ways:

AttrDict({'Ts': Field([[32.]])})

Take a single timestep forward#

Here is some internal information about the timestep of the model:


This says the timestep is 2592000 seconds (30 days!), and the model has taken 0 steps forward so far.

To take a single step forward:


The model got colder!

To see why, let’s look at some useful diagnostics computed by this model:

{'OLR': Field([[300.896072]]), 'ASR': 239.25130000000004}

This is another dictionary, now with two items. They should make sense to you.

Just like the state variables, we can access these diagnostics variables as attributes:


So why did the model get colder in the first timestep?

What do you think will happen next?

3. Run the zero-dimensional EBM out to equilibrium#

Let’s look at how the model adjusts toward its equilibrium temperature.


  • Using a for loop, take 500 steps forward with this model

  • Store the current temperature at each step in an array

  • Make a graph of the temperature as a function of time

4. A climate change scenario#

Description of the scenario#

Suppose we want to investigate the effects of a small decrease in the transmissitivity of the atmosphere tau.

Previously we used the zero-dimensional model to investigate a hypothetical climate change scenario in which:

  • the transmissitivity of the atmosphere tau decreases to 0.57

  • the planetary albedo increases to 0.32

Implement the scenario in climlab#

How would we do that using climlab?

Recall that the model is comprised of two sub-components:

for name, process in ebm.subprocess.items():
climlab Process of type <class 'climlab.radiation.boltzmann.Boltzmann'>. 
State variables and domain shapes: 
  Ts: (1, 1) 
The subprocess tree: 
OutgoingLongwave: <class 'climlab.radiation.boltzmann.Boltzmann'>

climlab Process of type <class 'climlab.radiation.absorbed_shorwave.SimpleAbsorbedShortwave'>. 
State variables and domain shapes: 
  Ts: (1, 1) 
The subprocess tree: 
AbsorbedShortwave: <class 'climlab.radiation.absorbed_shorwave.SimpleAbsorbedShortwave'>

The parameter tau is a property of the OutgoingLongwave subprocess:


and the parameter albedo is a property of the AbsorbedShortwave subprocess:


Let’s make an exact clone of our model and then change these two parameters:

ebm2 = climlab.process_like(ebm)
climlab Process of type <class 'climlab.process.time_dependent_process.TimeDependentProcess'>. 
State variables and domain shapes: 
  Ts: (1, 1) 
The subprocess tree: 
EnergyBalanceModel: <class 'climlab.process.time_dependent_process.TimeDependentProcess'>
   OutgoingLongwave: <class 'climlab.radiation.boltzmann.Boltzmann'>
   AbsorbedShortwave: <class 'climlab.radiation.absorbed_shorwave.SimpleAbsorbedShortwave'>
ebm2.subprocess['OutgoingLongwave'].tau = 0.57
ebm2.subprocess['AbsorbedShortwave'].albedo = 0.32

Now our model is out of equilibrium and the climate will change!

To see this without actually taking a step forward:

#  Computes diagnostics based on current state but does not change the state
ebm2.ASR - ebm2.OLR

Shoud the model warm up or cool down?

Well, we can find out:


Automatic timestepping#

Often we want to integrate a model forward in time to equilibrium without needing to store information about the transient state.

climlab offers convenience methods to do this easily:

ebm3 = climlab.process_like(ebm2)
Integrating for 608 steps, 18262.11 days, or 50 years.
Total elapsed time is 50.10373938170343 years.
#  What is the current temperature?
#  How close are we to energy balance?
ebm3.ASR - ebm3.OLR
#  We should be able to accomplish the exact same thing with explicit timestepping
#  And we could make a time-dependent plot too!
ebm4 = climlab.process_like(ebm2)

num_steps = 608
Tarray = np.zeros(num_steps)

for n in range(num_steps):
    Tarray[n] = ebm4.Ts
ebm4.ASR - ebm4.OLR

Looks like the same temperature and energy imbalance as we got above using integrate_years for auomatic timestepping.

But since we save the temperature from each timestep in variable Tarray, now we can make a plot:

plt.ylabel('Surface temperature (ºC)')
Text(0, 0.5, 'Surface temperature (ºC)')

5. Further climlab resources#

We will be using climlab extensively throughout this course. Lots of examples of more advanced usage are found here in the course notes. Here are some links to other resources:


This notebook is part of The Climate Laboratory, an open-source textbook developed and maintained by Brian E. J. Rose, University at Albany.

It is licensed for free and open consumption under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.

Development of these notes and the climlab software is partially supported by the National Science Foundation under award AGS-1455071 to Brian Rose. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.