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Francesca McInerney

Adjunct Professor, Australian Research Council Future Fellow in School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Adelaide

Ph.D. Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago
M.S. Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago
B.A. Geology and Studies in the Environment, Yale University


Plants are sensitive recorders of climatic and atmospheric conditions through the stable isotope signature of their tissues. Some plant compounds, such as lipids, are well preserved in the geologic record, and their isotope ratios can tell us a great deal about the growth conditions (paleoecology, climate, atmospheric conditions) of the plants that produced them. However, to decipher these records, we must understand the factors that control these isotope signatures in the modern ecosystems. Therefore, my research focuses on both modern calibration of new isotopic proxies, as well as applications of those proxies to the geologic past during times of ecologic and climatic changes. Examples of past and current research include: Hydrogen Isotope Ratios of Plant Lipids as a Paleohydrologic Proxy, Terrestrial Ecosystem Responses to the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, Reconstructing Neogene Grasslands.

Selected Publications

McInerney, F.A. and S.L. Wing.  2011.  The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum – a perturbation of carbon cycle, climate, and biosphere with implications for the future.  Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

McInerney, F.A., Helliker, B.R. and K.H. Freeman.  2011. Hydrogen isotope ratios of leaf wax n-alkanes in grasses are insensitive to transpiration. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 75: 541-554.

McInerney F.A., Strömberg, C.A.E., and J.W.C. White. 2011. The Neogene transition from C3 to C4 grasslands in North America: Stable carbon isotope ratios of fossil phytoliths. Paleobiology 37: 23–49.

Strömberg, C.A.E. and F.A. McInerney. 2011. The Neogene transition from C3 to C4 grasslands in North America: Assemblage analysis of fossil phytoliths. Paleobiology 37: 50-71.

Smith, F.A., Wing, S.L. and K.H. Freeman.  2007. Magnitude of the carbon isotope excursion at the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum: The role of plant community change. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 262: 50–65.

Smith, F.A., and K.H. Freeman.  2006.  Influence of physiology and climate on dD of leaf wax n-alkanes from C3 and C4 grasses.  Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 70: 1172-1187.

Wing S.L., Harrington, G.J., Smith, F.A., Bloch, J.I., Boyer, D.M. and K.H. Freeman.  2005. Transient Floral Change and Rapid Global Warming at the Paleocene-Eocene Boundary. Science 310: 993-996.

Smith, F.A., and J.W.C. White.  2004.  Modern calibration of phytolith carbon isotope signatures for C3/C4 paleograssland reconstruction.  Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 207: 277-304.

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