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Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Dr Erin McClymont

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

Contact Dr Erin McClymont (email at erin.mcclymont@durham.ac.uk)

Biography

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.

Research Interests

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

Research Grants

  • 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

Research Projects

Selected Publications

Journal Article

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.

Newspaper/Magazine Article

Report

Show all publications

Related Links

Selected Grants

  • 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)

Supervises