The Community Earth System Model (CESM) large ensemble project: a community resource for studying climate change in the presence of internal climate variability

Jennifer E Kay, Clara Deser, Adam S Phillips, A Mai, Cecile Hannay, Gary Strand, Julie Michelle Arblaster, S C Bates, Gokhan Danabasoglu, James C Edwards, Marika M Holland, Paul J Kushner, Jean-Francois Lamarque, David M Lawrence, Keith Lindsay, A Middleton, Ernesto Munoz, Richard B Neale, Keith W Oleson, Lorenzo M PolvaniMariana Vertenstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1179 Citations (Scopus)


While internal climate variability is known to affect climate projections, its influence is often underappreciated and confused with model error. Why? In general, modeling centers contribute a small number of realizations to international climate model assessments [e.g., phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5)]. As a result, model error and internal climate variability are difficult, and at times impossible, to disentangle. In response, the Community Earth System Model (CESM) community designed the CESM Large Ensemble (CESM-LE) with the explicit goal of enabling assessment of climate change in the presence of internal climate variability. All CESM-LE simulations use a single CMIP5 model (CESM with the Community Atmosphere Model, version 5). The core simulations replay the twenty to twenty-first century (1920–2100) 30 times under historical and representative concentration pathway 8.5 external forcing with small initial condition differences. Two companion 1000+-yr-long preindustrial control simulations (fully coupled, prognostic atmosphere and land only) allow assessment of internal climate variability in the absence of climate change. Comprehensive outputs, including many daily fields, are available as single-variable time series on the Earth System Grid for anyone to use. Early results demonstrate the substantial influence of internal climate variability on twentieth- to twenty-first-century climate trajectories. Global warming hiatus decades occur, similar to those recently observed. Internal climate variability alone can produce projection spread comparable to that in CMIP5. Scientists and stakeholders can use CESM-LE outputs to help interpret the observational record, to understand projection spread and to plan for a range of possible futures influenced by both internal climate variability and forced climate change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1333-1349
Number of pages17
JournalBulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015
Externally publishedYes

Cite this