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SHIMMER (Soil biogeocHemIcal Model for Microbial Ecosystem Response) is a new numerical modelling framework designed to simulate microbial dynamics and biogeochemical cycling during initial ecosystem development in glacier forefield soils. However, it is also transferable to other extreme ecosystem types (such as desert soils or the surface of glaciers). The rationale for model development arises from decades of empirical observations in glacier forefields, and enables a quantitative and process focussed approach. Here, we provide a detailed description of SHIMMER, test its performance in two case study forefields: the Damma Glacier (Switzerland) and the Athabasca Glacier (Canada) and analyse sensitivity to identify the most sensitive and unconstrained model parameters. Results show that the accumulation of microbial biomass is highly dependent on variation in microbial growth and death rate constants, Q10 values, the active fraction of microbial biomass and the reactivity of organic matter. The model correctly predicts the rapid accumulation of microbial biomass observed during the initial stages of succession in the forefields of both the case study systems. Primary production is responsible for the initial build-up of labile substrate that subsequently supports heterotrophic growth. However, allochthonous contributions of organic matter, and nitrogen fixation, are important in sustaining this productivity. The development and application of SHIMMER also highlights aspects of these systems that require further empirical research: quantifying nutrient budgets and biogeochemical rates, exploring seasonality and microbial growth and cell death. This will lead to increased understanding of how glacier forefields contribute to global biogeochemical cycling and climate under future ice retreat.