Dr Cesca McInerney

Cesca McInerney
ARC Future Fellow
School of Physical Sciences
Faculty of Sciences

Dr. McInerney examines how climate change influenced terrestrial ecosystems in the geologic past by analyzing the chemical signatures of fossilized plants.

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External Profiles

Dr Cesca McInerney

Dr. McInerney examines how climate change influenced terrestrial ecosystems in the geologic past by analyzing the chemical signatures of fossilized plants.

Eligible to supervise Masters and PhD — email supervisor to discuss availability.

Dr. McInerney’s research focuses on reading isotopic signatures from the rock record to understand the influence of past climate change on ancient ecosystems. She is interested in how plant communities and terrestrial biogeochemical cycles reacted to periods of global warming in the geologic past as a potential analogue to future climate change impacts.

Specifically, she analyzes the stable isotopic composition of fossilized plants and their preserved leaf waxes to reconstruct past climates and ecosystems. These leaf waxes are essentially molecular fossils that can retain information for millions of years about the plants that made them and the environments they lived in. In order to interpret these ancient chemical signatures, McInerney also studies modern plants and soils as a means of calibrating the isotopic tools she applies to the geologic record.

Current projects include:

• Palaeohydrology of the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum in the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming

• Palaeoecology of the Miocene of Ethiopia

• Isotopic and chemical signature of leaves as rainfall proxies

• Climatic influences on chemical and isotopic signatures of leaf wax n-alkanes in soils and plants across Australia

• Soil degradation of n-alkanes

• Palaeohydrology of the Holocene of Southeast Queensland

• Within species variation in leaf wax n-alkane abundance in relation to climate and leaf traits

• Isotopic signatures of canopy structure across the Cenozoic of Australia

• Isotopic tools for provenancing timber

• Palaeoclimate during Megafauna extinction in Australia

Students interested in using geochemical tools to explore past climate-ecosystem interactions in an Honours or PhD project should contact Dr. McInerney directly. 


Date Position Institution name
2017 - 2020 Senior Lecturer University of Adelaide
2012 - 2017 ARC Future Fellow University of Adelaide
2012 - 2016 Adjunct Assistant Professor Northwestern University
2006 - 2012 Assistant Professor Northwestern University

Awards and Achievements

Date Type Title Institution Name Country Amount
2017 Recognition Unsung Hero of South Australian Science Government of South Australia Australia
2016 Invitation Keynote address, Australian Organic Geochemistry Conference, 2016
2015 Invitation Invited Keynote Speaker at international Plant Waxes Conference ETH Zurich Switzerland

Language Competencies

Language Competency
French Can read, write, speak and understand spoken


Date Institution name Country Title
1996 - 2002 University of Chicago United States PhD
1993 - 1996 University of Chicago United States Master of Science
1987 - 1992 Yale University United States Bachelors

Postgraduate Training

Date Title Institution Country
2004 - 2006 Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellow Smithsonian Institution United States
2002 - 2004 BRIE Postdoctoral Fellow Pennsylvania State University United States


Year Citation
2017 Baczynski, A., McInerney, F., Wing, S., Kraus, M., Bloch, J., & Secord, R. (2017). Constraining paleohydrologic change during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum in the continental interior of North America. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 465, 237-246.
2017 Caddy-Retalic, S., Andersen, A., Aspinwall, M., Breed, M., Byrne, M., Christmas, M., . . . Lowe, A. (2017). Bioclimatic transect networks: powerful observatories of ecological change. Ecology and Evolution, 7(13), 4607-4619.
2017 Bush, R., Wallace, J., Currano, E., Jacobs, B., McInerney, F., Dunn, R., & Tabor, N. (2017). Cell anatomy and leaf δ<sup>13</sup>C as proxies for shading and canopy structure in a Miocene forest from Ethiopia. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 485, 593-604.
2016 Cernusak, L., Barbour, M., Arndt, S., Cheesman, A., English, N., Feild, T., . . . Farquhar, G. (2016). Stable isotopes in leaf water of terrestrial plants. Plant, Cell & Environment, 39(5), 1087-1102.
DOI Scopus27 WoS24 Europe PMC22
2016 Tibby, J., Barr, C., McInerney, F., Henderson, A., Leng, M., Greenway, M., . . . McNeil, V. (2016). Carbon isotope discrimination in leaves of the broad-leaved paperbark tree, Melaleuca quinquenervia, as a tool for quantifying past tropical and subtropical rainfall. Global Change Biology, 22(10), 3474-3486.
DOI Scopus1 WoS1
2016 Baczynski, A., McInerney, F., Wing, S., Kraus, M., Morse, P., Bloch, J., . . . Freeman, K. (2016). Distortion of carbon isotope excursion in bulk soil organic matter during the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 128(9), 1352-1366.
DOI Scopus4 WoS2
2015 Bush, R. T., & McInerney, F. A. (2015). Influence of temperature and C₄ abundance on n-alkane chain length
distributions across the central USA. Organic Geochemistry, 79, 65-73.

DOI Scopus25 WoS23
2014 Baczynski, A., McInerney, F., & Wing, S. (2014). n-Alkane PETM records from the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming: A core-outcrop comparison. Rendiconti Online Societa Geologica Italiana, 31, 19-20.
2013 Clyde, W., Gingerich, P., Wing, S., Rohl, U., Westerhold, T., Bowen, G., . . . Brady, K. (2013). Bighorn Basin Coring Project (BBCP): A continental perspective on early Paleogene hyperthermals. Scientific Drilling, 16(16), 21-31.
DOI Scopus12
2013 Baczynski, A., McInerney, F., Wing, S., Kraus, M., Bloch, J., Boyer, D., . . . Fricke, H. (2013). Chemostratigraphic implications of spatial variation in the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum carbon isotope excursion, SE Bighorn Basin, Wyoming. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 14(10), 4133-4152.
DOI Scopus11 WoS12
2013 Bush, R., & McInerney, F. (2013). Leaf wax n-alkane distributions in and across modern plants: implications for paleoecology and chemotaxonomy. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 117, 161-179.
DOI Scopus144 WoS139
2013 Kraus, M., McInerney, F., Wing, S., Secord, R., Baczynski, A., & Bloch, J. (2013). Paleohydrologic response to continental warming during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, Bighorn Basin, Wyoming. Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology, 370, 196-208.
DOI Scopus29 WoS28
2012 Sachse, D., Billault, I., Bowen, G., Chikaraishi, Y., Dawson, T., Feakins, S., . . . Kahmen, A. (2012). Molecular paleohydrology: interpreting the hydrogen-isotopic composition of lipid biomarkers from photosynthesizing organisms. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 40(1), 221-249.
DOI Scopus265 WoS255
2012 Lynch, D., McInerney, F., Kouwenberg, L., & Gonzalez-Meler, M. (2012). Plasticity in bundle sheath extensions of heterobaric leaves. American Journal of Botany, 99(7), 1197-1206.
DOI Scopus8 WoS9 Europe PMC2
2012 Secord, R., Bloch, J., Chester, S., Boyer, D., Wood, A., Wing, S., . . . Krigbaum, J. (2012). Evolution of the earliest horses driven by climate change in the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Science, 335(6071), 959-962.
DOI Scopus61 WoS58 Europe PMC23
2011 McInerney, F., & Wing, S. (2011). The Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum: a perturbation of carbon cycle, climate, and biosphere with implications for the future. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 39(1), 489-516.
DOI Scopus244 WoS233
2011 McInerney, F., & Stromberg, C. (2011). The Neogene transition from C₃ to C₄ grasslands in North America: assemblage analysis of fossil phytoliths. Paleobiology, 37(1), 50-71.
DOI Scopus49 WoS46
2011 McInerney, F., Helliker, B., & Freeman, K. (2011). Hydrogen isotope ratios of leaf wax n-alkanes in grasses are insensitive to transpiration. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 75(2), 541-554.
DOI Scopus81 WoS79
2011 McInerney, F., Stromberg, C., & White, J. (2011). The Neogene transition from C₃ to C₄ grasslands in North America: stable carbon isotope ratios of fossil phytoliths. Paleobiology, 37(1), 23-49.
DOI Scopus29 WoS28
2009 Polissar, P., Freeman, K., Rowley, D., McInerney, F., & Currie, B. (2009). Paleoaltimetry of the Tibetan Plateau from D/H ratios of lipid biomarkers. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 287(1-2), 64-76.
DOI Scopus104 WoS102
2007 McInerney, F., Freeman, K., & Wing, S. (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(1-2), 50-65.
DOI Scopus103 WoS101
2007 Smith, F. A., Freeman, K. H., & Helliker, B. R. (2007). GEOC 2-Hydrologic and taxonomic controls on leaf wax lipid hydrogen isotope ratios. ABSTRACTS OF PAPERS OF THE AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY, 234, 1 page.
2006 Smith, F., & Freeman, K. (2006). Influence of physiology and climate on δD of leaf wax n-alkanes from C3 and C4 grasses. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 70(5), 1172-1187.
DOI Scopus207 WoS201
2005 Wing, S., Harrington, G., Smith, F., Bloch, J., Boyer, D., & Freeman, K. (2005). Paleontology: Transient floral change and rapid global warming at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary. Science, 310(5750), 993-996.
DOI Scopus297 WoS280 Europe PMC58
2004 Smith, F., & White, J. (2004). Modem calibration of phytolith carbon isotope signatures for C-3/C-4 paleograssland reconstruction. PALAEOGEOGRAPHY PALAEOCLIMATOLOGY PALAEOECOLOGY, 207(3-4), 277-304.
2004 Smith, F., & White, J. (2004). Modern calibration of phytolith carbon isotope signatures for C<inf>3</inf>/C<inf>4</inf>paleograssland reconstruction. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 207(3-4), 277-304.
DOI Scopus35
2002 Smith, F., & White, J. (2002). The development of Neogene grasslands in relation to climate and atmospheric CO2: The carbon isotope ratios of fossil phytoliths. GEOCHIMICA ET COSMOCHIMICA ACTA, 66(15A), A722.

Book Chapters

Year Citation
2001 Smith, F., & Anderson, K. (2001). Characterization of organic compounds in phytoliths: Improving the resolving power of phytolith delta C-13 as a tool for paleoecological reconstruction of C3 and C4 grasses. In J. Meunier, & F. Colin (Eds.), Unknown Book (pp. 317-327). A A BALKEMA PUBLISHERS.

Conference Papers

Year Citation
2009 McInerney, F. A., Wing, S. L., Bloch, J. I., Bowen, G. J., Boyer, D. M., Chester, S., . . . Secord, R. (2009). Coordinated sedimentary and biotic change during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum in the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, USA. In E. M. Crouch, C. P. Strong, & C. J. Hollis (Eds.), Climatic and Biotic Events of the Paleogene (CBEP 2009), extended abstracts from an international conference in Wellington, New Zealand, 12-15 January 2009 Vol. GNS Science Miscellaneous Series (pp. 156-162). Wellington, New Zealand: GNS Science Miscellaneous Series.
2005 Smith, F., Wing, S., & Freeman, K. (2005). Using carbon and hydrogen isotope ratios of terrestrial organic matter to understand climate change at the PETM. In GEOCHIMICA ET COSMOCHIMICA ACTA Vol. 69 (pp. A345). Moscow, ID: PERGAMON-ELSEVIER SCIENCE LTD.

Conference Items

Year Citation
2016 Andrae, J., McInerney, F., Tyler, J., & Hall, P. A. (2016). The Neogene expansion of C4 dominated ecosystems: an Australian perspective.. Poster session presented at the meeting of Australian Organic Geochemistry Conference 2016. Freemantle.

Francesca McInerney (Lead CI), Jonathan Tyler, Jake Andrae.  Ecosystem change through the Neogene in Australia: documenting the rise of C4 vegetation. ANZIC special post-cruise analytical funding 9/2016-8/2017. AU $20,000.

Andrew Henderson (Lead CI), Francesca McInerney, John Tibby.  Tracking hydrological changes during Marine Isotope Stage 3 in the tropics using leaf wax isotopes. NERC Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility Grant 2016. AU $41,162.

Stefan Caddy-Retalic & Francesca McInerney. Foliar isotope ratios along bioclimatic gradients. TERN Australian Transect Network.  2016-2017. AU $25,000.

Stefan Caddy-Retalic & Francesca McInerney. Leaf carbon isotope ratios along TREND. TERN eMast. 2015. $4,700.

Cameron Barr (Lead CI), John Tibby and Francesca McInerney. A high-resolution quantitative rainfall record over the last 1000 years from the Australian sub-tropics. AINSE Research Award. 1/7/2015-30/6/2016. AU $9,895. 

Juraj Farkas (Lead CI), Francesca McInerney, David Bruce, Jonathan Tyler and Robert Frei. Development of New Method for Chromium Isotope Analysis.  6/2015 – 12/2015. AU$14,610.

Elizabeth Reed (Lead CI), Lee Arnold, Francesca McInerney, John Tibby, Jonathan Tyler, Juraj Farkas. Refining the timing and palaeoenvironmental context for megafauna extinction records at Naracoorte, South Australia. Marjor Collaborative Project, Environment Institute. 6/2015-12/2015.  AU$50,000.

Francesca McInerney (Lead CI). Compound-Specific Isotope Analysis in Australia: Existing Strengths and Emerging Opportunities. Environment Institute Workshop. 21/10/2014-31/12/2014. AU $10,050. 

Francesca McInerney (Lead CI) and John Tibby.  High-resolution multi-isotope palaeoclimate proxy leaves. Environment Institute Small Research Grants Scheme. 25/6/2014-31/12/2014. AU $12,000.

Francesca McInerney (Lead CI), John Tibby, Seth Westra, Cameron Barr, Jonathan Tyler, Mark Thyer. Leaves as rain gauges: Ancient hydrology from the isotopic signature of leaves. University of Adelaide DVCR Interdisciplinary Research Fund. 14/11/2013- 13/11/2014.  AU $29,476.

John Conran (Lead CI), Francesca McInerney, Robert Hill, Daphne Lee, Dallas Mildenhall. The Eocene high latitude Australasian ‘tropics’ in a changing climate – resolving conflicting evidence. ARC Discovery Grant.  1/2013-12/2015. AU$ 230,000.

Francesca McInerney (Sole CI). Palaeoclimate reconstructions from the isotopic signature of fossilized leaf waxes. Australian Research Council Future Fellowship. 1/9/2012-31/8/2016. AU $714,418.

Francesca McInerney (CI). CO2 levels during the greenhouse of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.  Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) Booster Grant. 1/12/2010-30/11/2011.  US $33,444.

Francesca McInerney (CI).  Ancient greenhouse worlds: Past climates as a roadmap for the future. Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) Booster Grant.  1/5/2009-30/11/2011.  US $28,206. 

Bonnie Jacobs (Lead CI), Ellen Currano, Francesca McInerney, Mulugeta Feseha, Aaron Pan. Collaborative Research: A multi-proxy approach to Early Miocene community, landscape, and climate reconstruction, Ethiopian Plateau. NSF-EAR: Sedimentary Geology and Paleobiology. 1/8/2011-31/7/2014.  US $383,129.

William Clyde (Lead CI), Philip Gingerich, Scott Wing, Francesca McInerney, Anders Noren, Gabriel Bowen, Mary Kraus, Katherine Freeman, Kirk Johnson.  Collaborative Research: Bighorn Basin Coring Project (BBCP) - Targeted Continental Drilling of Paleogene Hyperthermals. NSF-EAR.  1/9/2010-31/8/2013. US $1,400,000.

Francesca Smith (Lead CI), Jonathan Bloch, Mary Kraus, Scott Wing.  Collaborative Research:  Paleohydrology of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum: A multiple proxy reconstruction. NSF-EAR: Sedimentary Geology and Paleobiology.  1/10/2007-30/9/2011. US $303,001. 

University of Adelaide

Earth Systems History III- Geology 3505 (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016): Third year major course. Team Taught.  My topics: palaeoclimate, Earth’s energy budget and the long- and short-term carbon cycles.

Stable Isotopes in Biospheric Systems Workshop

Intensive short course (1 week) for Honours, PhD and Postdocs; includes lecture and laboratory components.  Lectured on isotope signatures of leaf wax lipids at the University of Sydney workshop (2015) and Daintree Rainforest Observatory (2016).

Northwestern University

Paleoclimate Analogs to Future Climate Change- EARTH 451 (Winter 2012): Graduate seminar course. 

Stable Isotope Ecology and Paleoecology- EARTH 451 (Winter 2010): Graduate and advanced undergraduate seminar course with group laboratory project. 

Paleobiology- EARTH 340 (Winter 2007, Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Fall 2010, Fall 2011):      Upper level Earth and Planetary Science course. 

Global Warming: The Scientific Evidence - EARTH 102-6 (Spring 2007, Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Spring 2012): Freshman Seminar, a required writing-intensive course.


Current Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
2017 Principal Supervisor Stable isotope approaches for provenancing and authentication of agricultural products and timber Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Ellyse Bunney
2016 Principal Supervisor Palaeoenvironmental Analysis of Australia during the Neogene Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Jake William Andrae
2016 Principal Supervisor Holocene Palaeo Climate Reconstruction for South East Queensland derived from Isotopic Signatures of sub fossil leaves Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Jacinta Skye Bannerman Greer
2015 Principal Supervisor variation in chain length and isotope ratios of leaf INAX n-alkanes in plants and soils across Australia Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Sian Howard
2014 Co-Supervisor Ecology of Rangeland Ecosystems and Ausplots Validation Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Stefan Caddy-Retalic
2014 Co-Supervisor Reconstruction Past Rainfall from Leaf Macrofossils in South Easter Australia Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Myall Alexander Tarran

Committee Memberships

Date Role Committee Institution Country
2016 - ongoing Member Climate and Biotic Events of the Paleogene Conference 2017 (Snowbird, Utah, USA) Scientific Committee.
2014 - 2014 Chair Australian Compound Specific Isotope Analysis Workshop University of Adelaide Australia
2013 - 2014 Co-Chair Session Leader at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference Geochemical Society United States
2013 - 2014 Co-Chair Organic Geochemistry Theme of the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference Geochemical Society United States
2012 - 2014 Member Organising Committee for the 18th Australian Organic Geochemistry Conference University of Adelaide Australia
ARC Future Fellow
8313 4347
North Terrace
Mawson Laboratories, floor 1
Room Number
1 19
Org Unit
Earth Sciences