Cesca McInerney

Cesca McInerney

School of Physics, Chemistry and Earth Sciences

Faculty of Sciences, Engineering and Technology

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

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

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. 

  • Appointments

    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
  • Education

    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

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.


  • Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2021 - 2023 Principal Supervisor Oxygen Isotopes Ratios of Phytoliths as a Proxy for Past Climates and Environments Master of Philosophy Master Full Time Mrs Kym Elizabeth Edwards
    2017 - 2023 Principal Supervisor Multi-isotopic Provenancing: Forensic Analysis for Determining Geographic Origin of Sandalwood Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Ellyse Bunney
    2016 - 2019 Principal Supervisor Development and Application of Leaf Wax Geochemistry to Reconstruct Late Cenozoic Climate and Environmental Change in Australia Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Jake William Andrae
    2015 - 2019 Principal Supervisor Palaeoenvironmental Proxy Development and Application of Leaf Wax n-Alkanes in Australia Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Sian Howard
    2014 - 2018 Co-Supervisor Quantifying Responses of Ecological Communities to Bioclimatic Gradients Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Stefan Caddy-Retalic
    2014 - 2018 Co-Supervisor Contributions to the Cenozoic Macrofossil Record of the Myrtaceae in South Eastern 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

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