What do I have to do to use ClimaDiagnostics?

In this page, we describe the low level interface that ClimaDiagnostics offers to work with diagnostics. Most packages implement addition interface to streamline computing and outputting diagnostics, so you should first refer to the manual of your package of interest. Come back here if you want to go beyond what the package developers offer and unlock the full power of ClimaDiagnostics.

There are two fundamental objects in ClimaDiagnostics: the DiagnosticVariable, and the ScheduledDiagnostic.


A DiagnosticVariable is a recipe on how to compute something alongside with some metadata.

For example, a DiagnosticVariable might be the air temperature. In pseudocode, some of the information we might want to include attach to the air temperature are:

short_name: "ta"
long_name: "Air Temperature"
units: "K"
how_to_compute: state.ta

Conceptually, a DiagnosticVariable is a variable we know how to compute from the state. We attach more information to it for documentation and to reference to it with its short name. DiagnosticVariables can exist irrespective of the existence of an actual simulation that is being run. Science packages are encouraged to define their set of pre-made DiagnosticVariables, for example, ClimaAtmos comes with several diagnostics already defined (in the ALL_DIAGNOSTICS dictionary).

Let us see how we would define a DiagnosticVariable

import ClimaDiagnostics: DiagnosticVariable

function compute_ta!(out, state, cache, time)
    if isnothing(out)
        return copy(state.ta)
        out .= state.ta

var = DiagnosticVariable(;
    short_name = "ta",
    long_name = "Air Temperature",
    standard_name = "air_temperature",
    comments = "Measured assuming that the air is in quantum equilibrium with the metaverse",
    units = "K",
    compute! = compute_ta!

compute_ta! is the key function here. It determines how the variable should be computed from the state, cache, and time of the simulation. Typically, these are packaged within an integrator object (e.g., state = integrator.u or integrator.Y).

compute_ta! takes another argument, out. out is an area of memory managed by ClimaDiagnostics that is used to reduce the number of allocations needed when working with diagnostics. The first time the diagnostic is called, an area of memory is allocated and filled with the value (this is when out is nothing). All the subsequent times, the same space is overwritten, leading to much better performance. You should follow this pattern in all your diagnostics.

Note, in the future, we hope to improve this rather clumsy way to write diagnostics. Hopefully, at some point you will just have to write something like state.ta and not worry about the out at all.

A DiagnosticVariable defines what a variable is and how to compute it, but does not specify when to compute/output it. For that, we need ScheduledDiagnostics.


A ScheduledDiagnostic is a DiagnosticVariable with attached a schedule on when it should be computed and output, as well as what reductions should be performed and how the file should be written.

Continuing our example on ta. Suppose we want to compute the average of the air temperature over a month. We would package this in a ScheduledDiagnostic that knows that we want to compute the air temperature, and we want it averaged over a month.

Let us examine what is in a ScheduledDiagnostic in more details:

  • variable, the DiagnosticVariable we want to compute.
  • two schedule functions that determine when the variable should be computed and output (compute_schedule_func and output_schedule_func). We have two separate entries one for compute and one for output because we might want to control them separately. For example, we might want to take the average of something every 10 steps, and output it the average every 100 iterations. schedule functions are powerful, so there is an entire section dedicated to them below. compute_schedule_func and output_schedule_func are likely going to be the same unless there are temporal reductions.
  • an output_writer, an object that knows what to do with the output. Examples of writers might be the DictWriter, which saves the output to a dictionary, or the NetCDFWriter, which saves the output to NetCDF files. A more complete description of the available writers is in Saving the diagnostics page.
  • output_short_name and output_long_name, two strings that specify the names that should be used for the output. Typically, output_short_name is used for file/key names, output_long_name is used for descriptive attributes. If none is provided, one is automatically generated by the output_short_name and output_long_name functions.
  • reduction_time_func, a function that implements a temporal reduction. Discussed later. This is what you need to implement operations like arithmetic averages. A pre_output_hook! function can also be passed to do some basic normalization operations.

Note that we can have multiple ScheduledDiagnostics for the same DiagnosticVariable (e.g., daily and monthly average temperatures).


ScheduledDiagnostics contain two arguments compute_schedule_func and output_schedule_func which dictate when the variable should be computed and when it should be output. These objects have to be functions that take a single argument (the integrator) and return a boolean value.

For example, if we want to call a callback every even step, we could pass

function compute_every_even(integrator)
    return mod(integrator.step, 2) == 0

Schedules can be arbitrary. For example, we might want to compute something if the value of the variable var is greater than 100 anywhere. The relevant schedule for this would be

function compute_if_larger_than100(integrator)
    return maximum(integrator.u.var) > 100

Strictly speaking, schedules do not have to be functions, but callable objects. For example, the compute_every_even schedule we defined earlier could be written for a more general divisor

struct EveryDivisor

function (schedule::EveryDivisor)(integrator)
    return mod(integrator.step, schedule.divisor) == 0

compute_every_even = EveryDivisor(2)

This gives schedules great flexibility because it allows them to contain a state that can be changed.

ClimaDiagnostics define an AbstractSchedule type to implement generic schedules following the pattern just illustrated. One of the main roles of AbstractSchedules is to have meaningful names that can be used in files/datasets/error messages, and so on. For this reason, Schedules in ClimaDiagnostics define methods for short_name and long_name.

If you define your own schedule, you are encouraged to define those methods too.

Let us see a complete example of a new schedule that returns true when a variable is greater than a threshold.

import ClimaDiagnostics

struct ExceedThresholdSchedule <: ClimaDiagnostics.AbstractSchedule

function (schedule::ExceedThresholdSchedule)(integrator)
    return maximum(getproperty(integrator.u, schedule.var)) > schedule.threshold

function ClimaDiagnostics.Callback.short_name(schedule::ExceedThresholdSchedule)
    return "$(schedule.var)_more_than_$(schedule.threshold)"

function ClimaDiagnostics.Callback.long_name(schedule::ExceedThresholdSchedule)
    return "when max($(schedule.var)) >= $(schedule.threshold)"

Names are not too important, but they should be meaningful to you.

Temporal reductions

It is often useful to compute aggregate data (e.g., monthly averages). In ClimaDiagnostics, this is implemented with through temporal reductions.

Let us assume we want to compute the maximum of the air temperature within a month. To achieve this, we simply pass the max function to reduction_time_func and choose our window in the output_schedule_func.

The only temporal reductions allowed are ones defined by associative operations, that is, functions f so that f(a, b, c, d, ...) = f(a, f(b, f(c, f(d, ...)))) (such as the sum). The reason for this restriction comes from the fact that we do not store all the intermediate values (which would lead to large consumption of memory). Instead, we accumulate intermediate results. So, the only statistics that can be computed are the ones that can be computed by adding one element at the time.

More specifically, when a ScheduledDiagnostic is created with a reduction_time_func, ClimaDiagnostics allocates an extra area of space accumulated for the accumulated value. Every time compute_schedule_func is true, the DiagnosticVariable is computed and saved to out. Then, accumulated is updated with the return value of reduction_time_func(accumulated, out). When output_schedule_func is true, the accumulated value is written with the writer and the state reset to the neutral state.

To allow for greater flexibility, ClimaDiagnostics also provides the option to evaluate a function before the output is saved. This is the pre_output_hook! function that can be provided when defining a ScheduledDiagnostic. The signature for pre_output_hook! has to be pre_output_hook!(accumulated_value, counter), where counter is the number of times the diagnostic was called. Given this, the arithmetic average is obtained with a + time reduction and a pre_output_hook! = (acc, counter) -> acc .= acc ./ counter. Given that averages are very common operations, ClimaDiagnostics directly provides the pre_output_hook. So, to define an average, you can directly import and use ClimaDiagnostics.average_pre_output_hook!.

The following is a sketch of what happens at the end of each step for each ScheduledDiagnostic:

if compute_schedule_func is true:
    out = compute!
    if reduction_time_func is not nothing:
        accumulated_value = reduction_time_func(accumulated_value, out)
        counter += 1
if output_schedule_func is true:
    pre_output_hook(accumulated_value, counter)