Dr Erin McClymont
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).
- Assessing the impact of ocean temperature changes on the evolution of deep sea fauna.
- 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, and a member of international working groups seeking to synthesise and integrate globally distributed climate records during the last glacial cycle and during the warmth of the Pliocene epoch.
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, North Pacific, equatorial Pacific, the Subantarctic Atlantic and Southeast Atlantic. Ongoing projects now include assessing evidence for high latitude signals of these Pliocene-Pleistocene climate changes, including work in the southern hemisphere and the Nordic Seas. 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.
Assessing the impact of ocean temperature changes on the evolution of deep sea fauna.
Around 1 million years ago, it is well documented that a large number of organisms living on the sea floor (benthic foraminifera) became extinct, but we have not yet found an explanation for this pattern. Funded by NERC and in collaboration with colleagues at British Geological Survey and Cambridge University, we are reconstructing sea surface temperatures to understand surface ocean circulation change in the Southern Ocean, and applying a recently developed technique to reconstruct the temperature of the water in which the foraminifera are living: analysing the Mg/Ca ratio of the foraminifera shells. This work has allowed us to test the hypothesis that cooling in the deep ocean can explain the extinction events. Our first results from the Tasman Sea (published in Nature Communications) show that a more likely explanation is a change in the plankton living at the sea-surface, causing a change in food supply to the deep ocean.
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 upon 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.
- Quaternary Environmental Change
- Organic geochemistry (biomarkers)
- Abrupt climate change
- Land-ocean interactions
- Ocean-ice sheet interactions
- Marine sediments
Paul Bachem (PhD student, Bjerknes Center for Climate Research, Norway)
Lauren Craven-Niemczyk (MRes student, Durham University, UK)
Dr Aurora Elmore (PDRA, Durham University, UK)
Kathryn Melvin (MRes student, Durham University, UK)
Maria Luisa Sanchez Montes (PhD student, Durham University, UK)
Dr Charlotte Spencer-Jones (PDRA, Durham University, UK)
Ben Taylor (PhD student, University of St Andrews, UK)
- 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)
- 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 Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (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)
- Risebrobakken, B., Andersson, C., De Schepper, S. & McClymont, E.L. Low-frequency Pliocene climate variability in the eastern Nordic Seas. Paleoceanography. 2016;31:1154-1175.
- Kender, S., McClymont, E.L., Elmore, A.C., Emanuel, D., Leng, M.J. & Elderfield, H. Mid-Pleistocene foraminiferal mass extinction coupled with phytoplankton evolution. Nature Communications. 2016;7:11970.
- Talbot, H.M., McClymont, E.L., Inglis, G.N., Evershed, R.P. & Pancost, R.D. Origin and preservation of bacteriohopanepolyol signatures in Sphagnum peat from Bissendorfer Moor (Germany). Organic Geochemistry. 2016;97:95-110.
- McClymont, E.L., Elmore, A.C., Kender, S., Leng, M.J., Greaves, M. & Elderfield, H. Pliocene-Pleistocene evolution of sea surface and intermediate water temperatures from the southwest Pacific. Paleoceanography. 2016;31:895-913.
- Bachem, P.E., Risebrobakken, B. & McClymont, E.L. Sea surface temperature variability in the Norwegian Sea during the late Pliocene linked to subpolar gyre strength and radiative forcing. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 2016;446:113-122.
- Tye, G.J., Sherriff, J., Candy, I., Coxon, P., Palmer, A., McClymont, E.L. & Schreve, D.C. The δ18O stratigraphy of the Hoxnian lacustrine sequence at Marks Tey, Essex, UK: implications for the climatic structure of MIS 11 in Britain. Journal of Quaternary Science. 2016;31:75-92.
- Reisinger, R.R., Gröcke, D.R., Lübcker, E.L., McClymont, E.L., Hoelzel, A.R. & Nico de Bruyn, P.J. Variation in the diet of killer whales Orcinus orca at Marion Island, Southern Ocean. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 2016;549:263-274.
- Ronkainen, T., Väliranta, M., McClymont, E.L., Biasi, C., Salonen, S., Fontana, S. & Tuittila, E.-S. A combined biogeochemical and paleobotanical approach to study permafrost environments and past dynamics. Journal of Quaternary Science. 2015;30:189-200.
- Elmore, A.C., McClymont, E.L., Elderfield, H., Kender, S., Cook, M.R., Leng, M.J., Greaves, M. & Misra, S. Antarctic Intermediate Water properties since 400 ka recorded in infaunal (Uvigerina peregrina) and epifaunal (Planulina wuellerstorfi) benthic foraminifera. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 2015;428:193-203.
- Petrick, B.F., McClymont, E.L., Marret, F. & van der Meer, M.T.J. Changing surface water conditions for the last 500 ka in the Southeast Atlantic: Implications for variable influences of Agulhas leakage and Benguela upwelling. Paleoceanography. 2015;30:1153-1167.
- Petrick, B., McClymont, E.L., Felder, S., Rueda, G., Leng, M.J. & Rosell-Melé, A. Late Pliocene upwelling in the Southern Benguela region. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 2015;429:62-71.
- Gulick, S.P.S., Jaeger, J.M., Mix, A.C., Asahi, H., Bahlburg, H., Belanger, C., Berbel, G.B., Childress, L., Cowan, E., Davies, M.H., Drab, L., Dottori, F., Forwick, M., Fukumura, A., Ge, S., Gupta, S., Kioka, A., Konno, S., LeVay, L., März, C., Matsuzaki, A., McClymont, E.L., Moy, C., Müller, J., Nakamura, A., Ojima, T., Ridgway, K., Romero, O., Slagle, A., Stoner, J., St-Onge, G., Suto, I., Worthington, L., Bailey, I., Enkelmann, E., Reece, R. & Swartz, J. Mid-Pleistocene climate transition drives net mass loss from rapidly uplifting St. Elias Mountains, Alaska. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2015;112:15042-15047.
- Peck, V.L., Allen, C.S., Kender, S., McClymont, E.L. & Hodgson, D. Oceanographic variability on the West Antarctic Peninsula during the Holocene and the influence of upper circumpolar deep water. Quaternary Science Reviews. 2015;119:54-65.
- Schellekens, J., Bindler, R., Martínez-Cortizas, A., McClymont, E.L., Abbott, G.D., Biester, H., Pontevedra-Pombal, X. & Buurman, P. Preferential degradation of polyphenols from Sphagnum - 4-isopropenylphenol as a proxy for past hydrological conditions in Sphagnum-dominated peat. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. 2015;150:74-89.
- Rosell-Melé, A., Martínez-Garcia, A. & McClymont, E.L. Persistent warmth across the Benguela upwelling system during the Pliocene epoch. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 2014;386:10-20.
- Ronkainen, T., McClymont, E.L., Tuitilla, E.-S. & Väliranta, M. Plant macrofossil and biomarker evidence of fen-bog transition and associated changes in vegetation. The Holocene. 2014;24:828-841.
- Candy, I. & McClymont, E.L. Interglacial intensity in the North Atlantic over the last 800,000 years: investigating the complexity of the mid-Brunhes Event (MBE). Journal of Quaternary Science. 2013;28:343-348.
- Haywood, A.M., Dolan, A.M., Pickering, S.J., Dowsett, H.J., McClymont, E.L., Prescott, C.L., Salzmann, U., Hill, D.J., Lunt, D.J., Pope, J.O. & Valdes, P.J. On the identification of a Pliocene time slice for data-model comparison. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society A: mathematical, physical and engineering sciences. 2013;371:20120515.
- Sadekov, A.Y., Ganeshram, R., Pichevin, L., Berdin, R., McClymont, E.L., Elderfield, H. & Tudhope, A.W. Palaeoclimate reconstructions reveal a strong link between El Niño-Southern Oscillation and Tropical Pacific mean state. Nature Communications. 2013;4:2692.
- McClymont, E.L., Sosdian, S.M., Rosell-Melé, A. & Rosenthal, Y. Pleistocene sea-surface temperature evolution: Early cooling, delayed glacial intensification, and implications for the mid-Pleistocene climate transition. Earth-Science Reviews. 2013;123:173-193.
- Ronkainen, T., McClymont, E.L., Väliranta, M. & Tuittila, E.-S. The n-alkane and sterol composition of living fen plants as a potential tool for palaeoecological studies. Organic Geochemistry. 2013;59:1-9.
- Fietz, S., Huguet, C., Bendle, J.A., Escala, M., Gallacher, C., Herfort, L., Jamieson, R., Martínez-Garcia, A., McClymont, E.L., Peck, V.L., Prahl, F.G., Rossi, S., Rueda, G., Sanson-Barrera, A. & Rosell-Melé, A. Co-variation of crenarchaeol and branched GDGTs in globally-distributed marine and freshwater sedimentary archives. Global and Planetary Change. 2012;92-93:275–285.
- McClymont, E.L., Ganeshram, R.S.S., Pichevin, L.E., Talbot, H.M., van Dongen, B.E., Thunell, R.C., Haywood, A.M., Singarayer, J.S.S. & Valdes, P.J. Sea-surface temperature records of Termination 1 in the Gulf of California: challenges for seasonal and inter-annual analogues of tropical Pacific climate change. Paleoceanography. 2012;27:PA2202.
- Pichevin, L.E., Ganeshram, R.S.S., Reynolds, B., Prahl, F.G., Pedersen, T.F.F., Thunell, R.C. & McClymont, E.L. Silicic acid biogeochemistry in the Gulf of California: Insights from sedimentary Si isotopes. Paleoceanography. 2012;27:PA2201.
- Rosell-Melé, A., Balestra, B., Kornilova, O., McClymont, E.L., Russell, M., Monechi, S., Troelstra, S. & Ziveri, P. Alkenones and coccoliths in ice-rafted debris during the Last Glacial Maximum in the North Atlantic: implications for the use of UK37' as a sea surface temperature proxy. Journal of Quaternary Science. 2011;26:657-664.
- Pancost, R.D., McClymont, E.L., Bingham, E.M., Roberts, Z., Charman, D.J., Hornibrook, E.R.C., Blundell, A., Chambers, F.M., Lima, K.L.H. & Evershed, R.P. Archaeol as a methanogen biomarker in ombrotrophic bogs. Organic Geochemistry. 2011;42:1279-1287
- McClymont, E.L., Bingham, E.M., Nott, C.J., Chambers, F.M., Pancost, R.D. & Evershed, R.P. Pyrolysis GC/MS as a rapid screening tool for determination of peat-forming plant composition in cores from ombrotrophic peat. Organic Geochemistry. 2011;42:1420-1435.
- Dickson, A.J., Leng, M.J., Maslin, M.A., Sloane, H.J., Green, J., Bendle, J.A., McClymont, E.L. & Pancost, R.D. Atlantic overturning circulation and Agulhas leakage influences on southEast Atlantic upper ocean hydrography during marine isotope stage 11. Paleoceanography. 2010;25:PA3208.
- Bingham, E.M., McClymont, E.L., Väliranta, M., Mauquoy, D., Roberts, Z., Chambers, F.M., Pancost, R.D. & Evershed, R.P. Conservative composition of n-alkane biomarkers in Sphagnum species: Implications for palaeoclimate reconstruction in ombrotrophic peat bogs. Organic Geochemistry. 2010;41:214-220.
- McClymont, E.L., Pendall, E. & Nichols, J. Stable isotopes and organic geochemistry in peat: Tools to investigate past hydrology, temperature and biogeochemistry. PAGES news. 2010;18:15-18.
- Martínez-Garcia, A., Rosell-Melé, A., McClymont, E.L., Gersonde, R. & Haug, G. Subpolar Link to the Emergence of the Modern Equatorial Pacific Cold Tongue. Science. 2010;328:1550-1553.
- Dickson, A.J., Beer, C.J., Demsey, C., Maslin, M., Bendle, J.A., McClymont, E.L. & Pancost, R.D. Oceanic Forcing of the Marine Isotope Stage 11 interglacial. Nature Geoscience. 2009;2:428-433.
- McClymont, E.L., Rosell-Mele, A., Haug, G. & Lloyd, J.M. Expansion of subarctic water masses in the North Atlantic and Pacific oceans and implications for mid-Pleistocene ice sheet growth. Paleoceanography. 2008;23:PA4214.
- McClymont, E.L., Mauquoy, D., Yeloff, D., Broekens, P., van Geel, B., Charman, D.J., Pancost, R.D., Chambers, F.P. & Evershed, R.P. The disappearance of Sphagnum imbricatum from Butterburn Flow, UK. The Holocene. 2008;18:991-1002.
- McClymont, E.L., Martinez-Garcia, A. & Rosell-Melé, A. Benefits of freeze-drying sediments for the analysis of total chlorins and alkenone concentrations in marine sediments. Organic Geochemistry. 2007;38:1002-1007.
- Charman, D. J., Blundell, A., ACCROTELM Members & (ELM as ACCROTELM Member) A pan-European testate amoebae transfer function for palaeohydrological reconstruction on ombrotrophic peatlands. Journal of Quaternary Science. 2006;22:209-221.
- McClymont, E.L., Rosell-Melé, A., Giraudeau, J., Pierre, C. & Lloyd, J.M. Alkenone and coccolith records of the Mid-Pleistocene in the south-east Atlantic: Implications for the UK37' index and south African climate. Quaternary Science Reviews. 2005;24:1559-1572.
- McClymont, E.L. & Rosell-Melé, A. Links between the onset of modern Walker circulation and the mid-Pleistocene climate transition. Geology. 2005;33:389-392.
Chapter in book
- Rosell-Melé, A. & McClymont, E.L. Biomarkers as palaeoceanographic proxies. In: Hillaire-Marcel, C. & de Vernal, A. Proxies in Late Cenozoic Paleoceanography. Amsterdam Oxford: Elsevier; 2007:441-490.
- Rosell-Melé, A., McClymont, E.L., Dekens, P.S., Dowsett, H., Haywood, A.M. & Pelejero, C. Multiproxy approach to reconstruct the Pliocene climate. PAGES Newsletter. 2015;23:29.
- McClymont, E.L., Dekens, P., Dowsett, H., Dupont, L., Haywood, A.M., Rosell-Melé, A. & Salzmann, U. Pliocene climate variability over glacial-interglacial timescales (PlioVAR) working group. PAGES Magazine. 2015;23:82.
- McClymont, E.L., Maerz, C. & IODP Expedition 341 Science Expedition 341 Southern Alaska margin interactions of tectonic, climate and sedimentation. Integrated Ocen Drilling Program UK newsletter. 2013;38:8-11.
- IODP Expedition 341 Scientists Southern Alaska Margin: interactions of tectonics, climate, and sedimentation. 2014.
- Jaeger, J.M., Gulick, S.P.S., LeVay, L.J. & the Expedition 341 Scientists The Proceedings of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, Expedition 341, Southern Alaska Margin. Expedition 341 of the riserless drilling platform Victoria, British Columbia (Canada), to Valdez, Alaska (USA) Sites U1417–U1421 29 May–29 July 2013. 2014.
- INTIMATE: INTegrating Ice core, MArine, and TErrestrial records
- IODP Leg 341 Alaskan Margin
- North East Quaternary Association (NEQUA)
- PAGES-PlioVAR working group
- Reconstructing Intermediate Water Temperatures
- 2016: Assessing the role of oceanic forcing in West Antarctic Ice Sheet retreat since the Last Glacial Maximum (£205872.00 from NERC - Natural Environment Research Council)
- 2013: Ocean Controls of high-lattitude climate sensitivity (£47534.52 from Uni Research AS)
- 2013: Southern Alaska margin: interactions of tectonics, climate, and sedimentation (Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 341) (£7888.00 from NERC - Natural Environment Research Council)
- 2012: Reconstructing Intermediate Water Temperature Response to Pliocene-Pleistocene Climates (£213220.32 from NERC - Natural Environment Research Council)