Saving re-startable snapshots of the model state

Sometimes you want to check the model state every 1000 years, for example. One possible solution is to run PISM for a thousand years, have it save all the fields at the end of the run, then restart and run for another thousand, and etc. This forces the adaptive time-stepping mechanism to stop exactly at multiples of 1000 years, which may be desirable in some cases.

If saving exactly at specified times is not critical, then use the -save_file and -save_times options. For example,

pismr -i -y 10000 -o -save_file \
      -save_times 1000:1000:10000

starts a PISM evolution run, initializing from, running for 10000 years and saving snapshots to at the first time-step after each of the years 1000, 2000, …, 10000.

We use a MATLAB-style range specification, \(a:\Delta t:b\), where \(a,\Delta t,b\) are in years. The time-stepping scheme is not affected, but as a consequence we do not guarantee producing the exact number of snapshots requested if the requested save times have spacing comparable to the model time-steps. This is not a problem in the typical case in which snapshot spacing is much greater than the length of a typical time step.

It is also possible to save snapshots at intervals that are not equally-spaced by giving the -save_times option a comma-separated list. For example,

pismr -i -y 10000 -o -save_file \
      -save_times 1000,1500,2000,5000

will save snapshots on the first time-step after years 1000, 1500, 2000 and 5000. The comma-separated list given to the -save_times option can be at most 200 numbers long.

If was created by the command above, running

pismr -i -y 1000 -o

will initialize using the last record in the file, at about \(5000\) years. By contrast, to restart from \(1500\) years (for example) it is necessary to extract the corresponding record using ncks

ncks -d t,1500years

and then restart from Note that -d t,N means “extract the \(N\)-th record” (counting from zero). So, this command is equivalent to

ncks -d t,1

Also note that the second snapshot will probably be around \(1500\) years and ncks handles this correctly: it takes the record closest to \(1500\) years.

By default re-startable snapshots contain only the variables needed for restarting PISM. Use the command-line option -save_size to change what is saved.

Another possible use of snapshots is for restarting runs on a batch system which kills jobs which go over their allotted time. Running PISM with options -y 1500 -save_times 1000:100:1400 would mean that if the job is killed before completing the whole 1500 year run, we can restart from near the last multiple of \(100\) years. Restarting with option -ye would finish the run on the desired year.

When running PISM on such a batch system it can also be useful to save re-startable snapshots at equal wall-clock time (as opposed to model time) intervals by adding the “-backup_interval (hours)” option.


If the wall-clock limit is equal to \(N\) times backup interval for a whole number \(N\) PISM will likely get killed while writing the last backup.

It is also possible to save snapshots to separate files using the -save_split option. For example, the run above can be changed to

pismr -i -y 10000 -o -save_file snapshots \
      -save_times 1000,1500,2000,5000 -save_split

for this purpose. This will produce files called This option is generally faster if many snapshots are needed, apparently because of the time necessary to reopen a large file at each snapshot when -save_split is not used. Note that tools like NCO and ncview usually behave as desired with wildcards like “snapshots-*.nc”.

Table 30 lists the options related to saving snapshots of the model state.

Table 30 Command-line options controlling saving snapshots of the model state.
Option Description
-save_file Specifies the file to save to.
-save_times Specifies times at which to save snapshots, by either a MATLAB-style range \(a:\Delta t:b\) or a comma-separated list.
-save_split Separate the snapshot output into files named Faster if you are saving more than a dozen or so snapshots.
-save_size [none,small,medium,big,big_2d] Similar to o_size, changes the “size” of the file (or files) written; the default is “small”

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