iMarNet: an ocean biogeochemistry model intercomparison project within a common physical ocean modelling framework
Abstract. Ocean biogeochemistry (OBGC) models span a wide variety of complexities, including highly simplified nutrient-restoring schemes, nutrient–phytoplankton–zooplankton–detritus (NPZD) models that crudely represent the marine biota, models that represent a broader trophic structure by grouping organisms as plankton functional types (PFTs) based on their biogeochemical role (dynamic green ocean models) and ecosystem models that group organisms by ecological function and trait. OBGC models are now integral components of Earth system models (ESMs), but they compete for computing resources with higher resolution dynamical setups and with other components such as atmospheric chemistry and terrestrial vegetation schemes. As such, the choice of OBGC in ESMs needs to balance model complexity and realism alongside relative computing cost. Here we present an intercomparison of six OBGC models that were candidates for implementation within the next UK Earth system model (UKESM1). The models cover a large range of biological complexity (from 7 to 57 tracers) but all include representations of at least the nitrogen, carbon, alkalinity and oxygen cycles. Each OBGC model was coupled to the ocean general circulation model Nucleus for European Modelling of the Ocean (NEMO) and results from physically identical hindcast simulations were compared. Model skill was evaluated for biogeochemical metrics of global-scale bulk properties using conventional statistical techniques. The computing cost of each model was also measured in standardised tests run at two resource levels. No model is shown to consistently outperform all other models across all metrics. Nonetheless, the simpler models are broadly closer to observations across a number of fields and thus offer a high-efficiency option for ESMs that prioritise high-resolution climate dynamics. However, simpler models provide limited insight into more complex marine biogeochemical processes and ecosystem pathways, and a parallel approach of low-resolution climate dynamics and high-complexity biogeochemistry is desirable in order to provide additional insights into biogeochemistry–climate interactions.