Earth system models (ESMs) are useful tools for predicting and understanding past and future aspects of the climate system. However, the biological and physical parameters used in ESMs can have wide variations in their estimates. Even small changes in these parameters can yield unexpected results without a clear explanation of how a particular outcome was reached. The standard method for estimating ESM sensitivity is to compare spatiotemporal distributions of variables from different runs of a single ESM. However, a potential pitfall of this method is that ESM output could match observational patterns because of compensating errors. For example, if a model predicts overly weak upwelling and low nutrient concentrations, it might compensate for this by allowing phytoplankton to have a high sensitivity to nutrients. Recently, we demonstrated that neural network ensembles (NNEs) are capable of extracting relationships between predictor and target variables within ocean biogeochemical models. Being able to view the relationships between variables, along with spatiotemporal distributions, allows for a more mechanistically based examination of ESM outputs. Here, we investigated whether we could apply NNEs to help us determine why different ESMs produce different spatiotemporal distributions of phytoplankton biomass. We tested this using three cases. The first and second case used different runs of the same ESM, except that the physical circulations differed between them in the first case, while the biological equations differed between them in the second. Our results indicated that the NNEs were capable of extracting the relationships between variables for different runs of a single ESM, allowing us to distinguish between differences due to changes in circulation (which do not change relationships) from changes in biogeochemical formulation (which do change relationships). In the third case, we applied NNEs to two different ESMs. The results of the third case highlighted the capability of NNEs to contrast the apparent relationships of different ESMs and some of the challenges it presents. Although applied specifically to the ocean components of an ESM, our study demonstrates that Earth system modelers can use NNEs to separate the contributions of different components of ESMs. Specifically, this allows modelers to compare the apparent relationships across different ESMs and observational datasets.