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Durham University

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Staff Profile

Professor Erin McClymont

Professor in the Department of Geography
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 43498
Fax: +44 (0) 191 33 41801
Room number: 235

Contact Professor Erin McClymont (email at


My research focusses on the development and application of organic geochemistry (biomarker) proxies to reconstruct past environmental and climate change. This work encompasses the analysis of marine, lake and peat sequences to understand the signals recorded in the oceans and on land over the most recent periods of Earth history. I research ocean/ice-sheet and land/ocean interactions across a range of timescales (from decades to millions of years), and investigate how the low and high latitude climate systems might be connected and responsible for global climate change. On-going research projects include:

  • Reconstructing sea surface temperatures from the Pliocene to the present day (the last 5 million years).
  • Reconstructing abrupt climate changes since the last glacial maximum (c. 25,000 years ago).
  • Testing new organic geochemistry (biomarker) proxies for past environmental change

In 2013 I was awarded the Philip Leverhulme Prize (£70,000) in recognition of my research profile. I am a member of the NERC Peer Review College, an Editor for the EGU Journal Climate of the Past, a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Quaternary Science, and currently lead an international working group (PlioVAR) seeking to synthesise and integrate globally distributed climate records during the warmth of the Pliocene epoch ~3-5 million years ago.

Reconstructing sea surface temperatures from the Pliocene to the present day

This work seeks to understand how ocean cooling and circulation change might have affected or responded to the expansion of continental ice-sheets over the last 5 million years (spanning the Pliocene and Quaternary). This has included assessing patterns of ocean temperature change in the North Atlantic, Nordic SeasNorth Pacific, equatorial Pacific, Southwest Pacific, the Subantarctic Atlantic and Southeast Atlantic. Using a multi-proxy approach, it has even been possible to evaluate the role played by such environmental changes on deep-sea fauna. In 2013 I sailed to the Gulf of Alaska as part of the international science party of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP, Expedition 341) to recover new sediment sequences which detail ocean-ice sheet-tectonics interactions reaching back into the Miocene. I am also working on new temperature records from the South-east Atlantic from IODP Expedition 361.

Reconstructing abrupt climate changes (decades, centuries) since the last glacial maximum (c. 25,000 years ago).

This work seeks to constrain the response of different parts of the climate system to the development and then retreat of extensive ice sheets in Antarctica and the northern hemisphere (e.g. over North America and Europe). We have shown that even the tropical Pacific can be impacted by the loss of the ice sheets in the mid and high latitudes, having identified rapid warming events and evolving ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns. Ongoing work also seeks to understand more direct interactions between the oceans and ice-sheets by analysing sediments in West Greenland, the Gulf of Alaska, and in Antarctica, where the inputs of ice-sheet meltwater and icebergs to the ocean can be directly compared to records of temperature, productivity, and sea ice.

Testing new organic geochemistry (biomarker) proxies for past environmental change.

The biomarker approach has been widely applied to reconstruct sea surface temperatures through geological time, but the organic compounds contained with sediments potentially provide a rich history of changes in vegetation, production and degradation of organic matter, and carbon storage and reworking in catchments. Using new archives (e.g. fen peats, high latitude lakes) and testing calibrations using modern samples (e.g. in the Southern Ocean) we are refining and applying new techniques to gain a more detailed understanding of climate impacts across a range of environments.

Research Interests

  • Quaternary Environmental Change
  • Palaeoceanography
  • Palaeoclimate
  • Organic geochemistry (biomarkers)
  • Marine ecosystems
  • Land-ocean interactions
  • Ocean-ice sheet interactions
  • Marine sediments

Research Grants

  • 2020: European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant (as PI) "ANTarctic Sea Ice Evolution from a novel biological archive (ANTSIE)" (total award: €1,999,929)
  • 2020: Leverhulme Trust Research Leadership Award (as PI) “Unlocking evidence for Antarctic sea-ice evolution from a novel biological archive” (total award £998,204)
  • 2017: NERC (as Co-I) “Carbon export by erosion of the biosphere: the role of earthquake-triggered landslides” (total award: £401,020, PI: R.G. Hilton, Durham University) 
  • 2016: NERC (as Co-I) "Assessing the role of oceanic forcing in West Antarctic Ice Sheet retreat since the Last Glacial Maximum" (total award: £460,165, PI: J. Smith, British Antarctic Survey)
  • 2016: NERC-Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Award (as PI) "The response of the Agulhas Leakage system to Pliocene-Pleistocene climate evolution" (total award: £25,000)
  • 2013: Research Council of Norway Standard Grant (as Co-I) “Ocean Controls on high-latitude Climate sensitivity - a Pliocene case study” (total award: NOK 9,000 (~£1m), PI: B. Risebrobakken, Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research)
  • 2013: NERC-IODP Directed Award (as sole investigator) “Southern Alaska margin: interactions of tectonics, climate, and sedimentation (Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 341)” (total award ~£9,000)
  • 2013: NERC Isotope Geosciences Facilities Award (as P.I.) "Reconstruction of Plio-Pleistocene South West Pacific Intermediate Water Circulation" (£8500 in kind)
  • 2012: NERC (as P.I.) "Reconstructing intermediate water temperature response to Pliocene - Pleistocene climates" (total award: £246,000)
  • 2010: Academy of Finland (as Co-I) "Biomarkers: a new potential method to study highly humified peat components" (total award: €239,000, PI: M. Valiranta, University of Helsinki)
  • 2010: NERC Isotope Geosciences Facilities Award (as P.I.) "Evolving sea surface temperatures in the south-east Atlantic through the Pliocene and Pleistocene" (£11,000 in kind)
  • 2007: NERC New Investigators Award (as sole investigator) "The millennial-scale response of the tropical Pacific to changing climate boundary conditions" (£60,000)
  • 2003: NERC Organic Mass Spectrometry Facility Award (as Co-I) "High precision UK37' and δ13Calkenone analyses" (£46,800 in kind, PI: J.M. Lloyd, Durham University)

Research Groups

Department of Geography

Research Projects

Department of Geography

  • Reconstructing Intermediate Water Temperature Response to Pliocene - Pleistocene Climates

Selected Publications

Chapter in book

  • Rosell-Melé, A. & McClymont, E.L. (2007). Biomarkers as palaeoceanographic proxies. In Proxies in Late Cenozoic Paleoceanography. Hillaire-Marcel, C. & de Vernal, A. Amsterdam Oxford: Elsevier. 441-490.

Journal Article

Newspaper/Magazine Article


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