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Professor Erin Mcclymont


Professor in the Department of Geography+44 (0) 191 33 43498


My research focusses on investigating the patterns and processes affecting climate and environmental changes in the past. This work has included the analysis of marine, lake and peat sequences to understand climate changes recorded in the oceans and on land over the most recent periods of Earth history. I’m particularly interested in ocean/ice-sheet and land/ocean interactions across a range of timescales (from decades to millions of years), and how the low and high latitude climate systems might be connected and responsible for global climate change.

In a new set of projects, my research team is tackling new biological (seabird) records of Antarctic sea ice, detailed further below. I usually employ organic geochemistry (biomarker) proxies, which allow investigation of past changes in ocean and lake temperature, hydrology, vegetation change, and predator diets. On-going research projects include:

  • Reconstructing Antarctic sea ice environments from the last glacial period to the present day (the last ~40,000 years)
  • Reconstructing sea surface temperatures from the Pliocene to the present day (the last 5 million years).
  • 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 Antarctic sea ice environments from the last glacial period to the present day (the last ~40,000 years)

This work seeks to better understand how Antarctic sea ice environments have changed through time, with a focus on the expansion and then contraction of sea ice associated with the last glacial cycle. Funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and the Leverhulme Trust, this work uses a novel approach: using the preserved diets of the Antarctic seabird the snow petrel (Pagodroma nivea) to reconstruct past prey distributions and sea ice environments. The project team includes 4 PhDs, 3 research associates, and collaborators in the School of Biosciences (Durham University) and the British Antarctic Survey. The work builds on earlier projects examining marine sediment evidence for changing ice sheet / ocean interactions as the Antarctic ice sheet retreated from it’s maximum extent during the last glacial.

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 Pacificequatorial 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.

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, seabird stomach-oil deposits) 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)


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