Dr Francesca McInerney

ARC Future Fellow
Dr Francesca McInerney
  Org Unit Earth Sciences
  Email cesca.mcinerney@adelaide.edu.au
  Telephone +61 8 8313 0228
  Location Floor/Room 1 19 ,  Mawson Laboratories ,   North Terrace

Francesca McInerney (née Smith) joined the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Adelaide as an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in September 2012.  From 2006-2012, she was an assistant professor at Northwestern University in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.  She received her bachelor’s from Yale University in Geology and Environmental Studies and her M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in the Department of Geophysical Sciences.  She went on to do postdoctoral research with Kate Freeman at Pennsylvania State University and with Scott Wing at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.


Ph.D. (2002) University of Chicago, Geophysical Sciences.

Dissertation: The Carbon Isotope Signature of Fossil Phytoliths: The Dynamics of C3 and C4 Grasses in the Neogene.  Susan Kidwell and James W.C. White (INSTAAR), Advisors. 


M.S. (1996) University of Chicago, Geophysical Sciences.

Thesis: The Evolution and Paleoecology of Photosynthetic Pathways in Grasses: Estimates of the Number of Originations of C4 Grasses and Methods for Inferring Photosynthetic Pathways in Paleocommunities using Carbon Isotopic Signatures of Fossil Phytoliths. Susan Kidwell, Advisor.


B.A. (1992) Yale University, Geology & Geophysics and Studies in the Environment.

Senior Thesis: What is a wetland?  I. The use of Depth Profiles of 226Ra and 210Pb as Indicators of Wetland Hydrology; II. Wetland Delineation: Interaction of Science and Policy.  Karl Turekian, Advisor.



While at Northwestern University, Francesca McInerney taught Global Warming, Isotope Ecology, Paleobiology and Paleoclimatology.  At the University of Adelaide, she is continuing to teach about paleobiology, paleoclimatology and the global carbon cycle.  Both her teaching and her research bridge the fields of geology, biology and chemistry.



Dr. McInerney’s research focuses on reading isotopic signatures from the rock record to understand the influence of past climate changes on ancient ecosystems.  In particular, 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 leaf waxes to reconstruct past climates and ecosystems.  These leaf waxes are essentially molecular fossils that 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.


Bush, R.T. and F.A. McInerney.  2014.  The influence of temperature and C4 abundance on n-alkane chain length distributions across the central USA.  Organic Geochemistry. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.orggeochem.2014.12.003

Baczynski, A.A., McInerney, F.A., Wing, S.L., Kraus, M.J., Bloch, J.I., Boyer, D.M., Secord, R., Morse, P.E. and H.C. Fricke. 2013. Chemostratigraphic implications of spatial variation in the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum carbon isotope excursion, SE Bighorn Basin, Wyoming. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems14, 4133–4152, doi:10.1002/ggge.20265.

Bush, R.T. and F.A. McInerney.  2013.  Leaf wax n-alkane distributions in and across modern plants: Implications for paleoecology and chemotaxonomy. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 117: 161-179. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gca.2013.04.016.

Kraus, M.J., McInerney, F.A., Wing, S.L., Secord, R., Baczynski, A.A., and J.I. Bloch.  2013. Paleohydrologic response to continental warming during the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum, Bighorn Basin, Wyoming.  Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 370: 196-208.

Lynch, D., McInerney, F.A., and M. Gonzalez-Meler. 2012. Plasticity in bundle sheath extensions of heterobaric leaves.  American Journal of Botany. 99: 1197–1206.

Secord, R., Bloch, J.I., Chester, S.G.B., Boyer, D.M., Wood, A.R., Wing, S.L., Kraus, M.J., McInerney, F.A., and Krigbaum, J. 2012. Evolution of the Earliest Horses Driven by Climate Change in the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Science. 335: 959-962.

Dirk Sachse, D., Billault, I., Bowen, G.J., Chikaraishi, Y., Dawson, T.E., Feakins, S.J., Freeman, K.H., Magill, C.R., McInerney, F.A., van der Meer, M.T.J., Polissar, P., Robins, R.J., Sachs, J.P., Schmidt, H-J., Sessions, A.L., White, J.W.C., West, J.B. and A. Kahmen. 2012. Molecular Paleohydrology: Interpreting the Hydrogen-Isotopic Composition of Lipid Biomarkers from Photosynthesizing Organisms. Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences 40: 221-249.

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 39:489–516.

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.

Wing, S.L., Bloch, J.I., Bowen, G.J., Boyer, D.M., Chester, S., Diefendorf, A.F., Harrington, G.J., Kraus, M.J., Secord, R., and F.A. McInerney. 2009.  Coordinated sedimentary and biotic change during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum in the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, USA. In Crouch, E.M., Strong, C.P., Hollis, C.J. (editors). Climatic and Biotic Events of the Paleogene (CBEP 2009), extended abstracts from an international conference in Wellington, New Zealand, 12-15 January 2009. GNS Science Miscellaneous Series 18. ISBN 978-0-478-19652-8. p156-162.

Polissar, P.J., Freeman, K.H., Rowley, D.B., McInerney, F.A. and B.S. Currie.  2009.  Paleoaltimetry of the Tibetan Plateau from D/H ratios of lipid biomarkers. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 287: 64-76.

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.

Smith, F.A. and K.B. Anderson.  2001.  Characterization of organic compounds in phytoliths: Improving the resolving power of phytolith d13C as a tool for paleoecological reconstruction of C3 and C4 grasses. In: Phytoliths: Applications in Earth Science and Human History, J.D., Meunier, F. Colin, Eds. A.A. Balkema Publishers, Rotterdam, Netherlands. pp. 317-327.



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Entry last updated: Friday, 7 Aug 2015

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