Variable Handlers

What are Variable Handlers?

In e3sm_to_cmip, each supported CMIP6 variable has a CMOR “handler”. A handler defines the metadata necessary for CMORizing E3SM variable(s) to their equivalent CMIP6 variable.

How are Variable Handlers Defined?

The metadata for variable handlers are defined in (key, value) pairs.

Required metadata:








CMIP6 variable name




CMIP6 variable’s units


array of string(s)


The E3SM variable name(s) used in the conversion to the CMIP6 variable.




The default CMOR table filename. (Source:

Optional metadata (based on variable, default is null ):








An optional unit conversion formula for the final output data.




An optional conversion formula for calculating the final output data. Usually this is defined if there are more than one raw variable.


“down” or “up”


The “positive” directive to CMOR enables data providers to specify the direction that they have assumed in fields (i.g. radiation fluxes has up or down direction) passed to CMOR. If their direction is opposite that required by CMIP6 (as specified in the CMOR tables), then CMOR will multiply the field by -1, reversing the sign for consistency with the data request.



{name: plev19, units: Pa, e3sm_axis_name: plev}

Distinguishes model-level variables, which require remapping from the default model level to the level defined in the levels dictionary.

Where are Variable Handlers Stored?

The supported CMIP6 variables and their handlers are defined in the E3SM CMIP6 Data Conversion Tables Confluence page.

These handler definitions are transferred to the e3sm_to_cmip repository at the following locations:

  1. e3sm_to_cmip/cmor_handlers/handlers.yaml

    • Stores handler definitions for atmosphere and land variables.

    • Each top-level entry defines a handler.

    • There can be more than one handler per variable (e.g., to handle different frequencies)

    • Example:

    -   name: pr
        units: kg m-2 s-1
        raw_variables: [PRECT]
        table: CMIP6_day.json
        unit_conversion: null
        formula: PRECT * 1000.0
        positive: null
        levels: null
    -   name: pr
        units: kg m-2 s-1
        raw_variables: [PRECC, PRECL]
        table: CMIP6_Amon.json
        unit_conversion: null
        formula: (PRECC + PRECL) * 1000.0
        positive: null
        levels: null
  2. e3sm_to_cmip/cmor_handlers/vars directory (legacy design)
    • Each handler is defined as Python module (.py file).

    • Stores legacy atmosphere land variable handlers including:,,,,, and

    • These handlers will be refactored into handlers.yaml. They either depend on CDAT modules or contain replicated code that has since been generalized.

    • Please avoid defining new handlers in this directory. Instead, add new handlers to handlers.yaml.

  3. e3sm_to_cmip/cmor_handlers/mpas_vars directory
    • Each handler is defined as Python module (.py file).

    • Stores handler definitions for MPAS ocean and sea-ice variable handlers.

    • MPAS variables require additional processing requirements (e.g., use of mesh files).

    • The development team is considering refactoring the design of these handlers.

Working with Atmosphere and Land Variables

Realms: atm, lnd

How to add atmosphere/land handlers

  1. Append a new entry to the e3sm_to_cmip/cmor_handlers/handlers.yaml file.

  2. If the handler has a formula, add a formula function to e3sm_to_cmip/cmor_handlers/

  • The function parameters must include data (a dictionary mapping variables to its underlying np.ndarray) and index (the index within the array to apply the formula to).

  • Example:

    def cLitter(data: Dict[str, np.ndarray], index: int) -> np.ndarray:
        cLitter = (TOTLITC + CWDC)/1000.0
        outdata = (data["TOTLITC"][index, :] + data["CWDC"][index, :]) / 1000.0
        return outdata

How e3sm_to_cmip derives atmosphere/land handlers

e3sm_to_cmip derives the appropriate variable handlers to use based on the available E3SM variables in the input datasets. Afterwards, it applies any necessary unit conversions, formulas, etc. during the CMORizing process.

For example, let’s say we want to CMORize the variable "pr" and we pass an E3SM input dataset that has the variables "PRECC" and "PRECL". e3sm_to_cmip derives the appropriate "pr" variable handler using this logic flow:

  1. Run e3sm_to_cmip --var-list pr --input-path <SOME_INPUT_PATH>

  2. In e3sm_to_cmip, --var-list is stored in a Python list (var_list=["pr"]).

  3. All defined handlers are gathered in a dictionary called available_handlers:

    # Key = CMIP variable id,  value = list of available handler objects defined in ``handlers.yaml`` and `/cmor_handlers`
    available_handlers = {
            "pr": [
                VarHandler(name="pr", raw_variables=["PRECT"]),
                VarHandler(name="pr", raw_variables=["PRECC", "PRECL"]),
  4. Loop over var_list:

    1. Get the list of handlers from available_handlers dict (for "pr")

          VarHandler(name="pr", raw_variables=["PRECT"]),
          VarHandler(name="pr", raw_variables=["PRECC", "PRECL"]),
    2. Derive a handler using the variables in the E3SM input dataset

      • The E3SM input dataset contains "PRECC" and "PRECL", so we derive the second handler, VarHandler(name="pr", raw_variables=["PRECC", "PRECL"]).

      • If no handler can be derived, an error is raised.

    3. Append derived handler to final list of derived_handlers

  5. Return derived_handlers=[VarHandler(name="pr", raw_variables=["PRECC", "PRECL"])]

Working with MPAS Ocean and Sea-ice Variables

Realms: mpaso, mpassi, SImon, and Omon

How to add MPAS variable handlers

Adding a variable handler for MPAS variable is slightly more involved process than for an atmosphere/land variable.

You need to create a Python module in /cmor_handlers/mpas_vars. We recommend taking a look at the existing modules such as to get idea on how to add an MPAS handler.

How e3sm_to_cmip derives MPAS variable handlers

MPAS variable handlers are derived differently than atmosphere/land variables. Instead of deriving handlers by checking if the raw E3SM variable keys are found in the input E3SM datasets, MPAS variable handlers use extra input files.

Within an MPAS variable handler module, a RAW_VARIABLES static variable is instantiated (e.g., RAW_VARIABLES = ["MPASO", "MPAS_mesh", "MPAS_map"]).

  • "MPASO" - The time series files

  • "MPAS_MESH" - The mesh file

  • "MPAS_map" - The mapping file

These individual elements are input files and not actually raw variables found in a dataset. All of these files are used to convert the E3SM variable to the CMIP variable.