Jessica Tierney

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Jessica Tierney
Alma materBrown University, B.A., M.Sc., & Ph.D.
AwardsNSF Alan T. Waterman Award

Packard Foundation Fellow

AGU Fellow
Scientific career
FieldsPaleoclimatology, Paleoceanography
InstitutionsUniversity of Arizona, Associate Professor, 2015 - Present
ThesisAn Organic Geochemical Perspective on Tropical East African Paleoclimate (2010)
Doctoral advisorJames M. Russell
Other academic advisorsPeter B. de Menocal
Notable studentsTripti Bhattacharya

Jessica E. Tierney (born 1982) is an American paleoclimatologist who has worked with geochemical proxies such as marine sediments,[1] mud,[2][3] and TEX86,[4] to study past climate in East Africa.[5] Her papers have been cited more than 2,500 times; her most cited work is Northern Hemisphere Controls on Tropical Southeast African Climate During the Past 60,000 Years.[6] Tierney is currently an associate professor of geosciences and the Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Chair in Integrative Science at the University of Arizona and faculty affiliate in the University of Arizona School of Geography, Development and Environment[7][3][8][9] Tierney is the first climatologist to win NSF's Alan T Waterman Award (2022) since its inception in 1975.[10]

Early life and education[edit]

Tierney was born in San Francisco, California, and grew up in Marin County. Tierney completed her bachelor's degree in geology in 2005 at Brown University, where she researched trace elements in Peru Margin sediments for her thesis. She completed her Masters and PhD in geology at Brown University with a focus in paleoclimatology and organic geochemistry under the advisement of James M. Russell.[11] At Brown, she also worked closely with Yongsong Huang. Sediment cores from Lake Tanganyika allowed Tierney to examine changes in precipitation and temperature during the past glacial cycle in East Africa. She completed her postdoctoral work at Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory with paleo-oceanographer Peter deMenocal.[11] Tierney worked as an assistant scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution[5] before arriving at the University of Arizona[7] where she is an associate professor.


Tierney is notable in paleoclimatology for her climate research using organic biomarkers.[11] Her career studying past climate change was driven by her passion for both history and science.[11][5] Tierney, along with Peter deMenocal and Paul Zander, studied the past climate of the Horn of Africa. They took cores of marine sediment, testing for alkenones, and concluded that about 70,000 years ago this region experienced a change from a wet climate to a dry, cold climate. Tierney and the co-authors determine this climate shift, which coincides with climate change and human activity,[1] to be the force behind human migration.[12][7][13] In addition, Tierney uses mud and leaf wax to learn about precipitation and the evolution of monsoons.[2][3][14] Tierney also uses TEX86, a biomarker that tracks temperature, to study past climate in the tropics[4] on decadal and interannual scales;[6] for example, examining the relationship Indo-Pacific variability and East African rainfall.[15]


Selected publications[edit]

  • Northern hemisphere controls on tropical southeast African climate during the past 60,000 years, Science, 2008[6][21]
  • Distributions of branched GDGTs in a tropical lake system: implications for lacustrine application of the MBT/CBT paleoproxy, Organic Geochemistry, 2009[6][22]
  • Environmental controls on branched tetraether lipid distributions in tropical East African lake sediments, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 2010[6][23]
  • Multidecadal variability in East African hydroclimate controlled by the Indian Ocean, Nature, 2013[6][24]


  1. ^ a b "Hotter, Drier, Hungrier: How Global Warming Punishes the World's Poorest". Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  2. ^ a b "UA researchers use mud to predict monsoon trends". 2018-09-21. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  3. ^ a b c "Chemical fossils". Chemistry World. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  4. ^ a b "The arc of TEX86 with Jessica Tierney". Forecast: a podcast about climate science and climate scientists. 2017-07-12. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  5. ^ a b c d "Jessica Tierney – Honors Program". Honors Program. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Jessica Tierney – Google Scholar Citations". Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  7. ^ a b c "Ancient humans left Africa to escape drying climate". EurekAlert!. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  8. ^ "Jessica Tierney Named Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Chair in Integrative Science". College of Science. 2022-04-21. Retrieved 2022-05-05.
  9. ^ "Jessica Tierney". 29 October 2021.
  10. ^ "NSF recognizes 3 scientists with the Alan T. Waterman Award". Retrieved 2022-04-21.
  11. ^ a b c d Star, Tom Beal Arizona Daily. "Scientist loves climate history – and her tattoo proves it". Arizona Daily Star. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  12. ^ Kaenel, ClimateWire, Camille von. "Horn of Africa Grows Hotter and Drier". Scientific American. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  13. ^ Tierney, Jessica E.; deMenocal, Peter B.; Zander, Paul D. (2017-10-02). "A climatic context for the out-of-Africa migration". Geology. 45 (11): 1023–1026. Bibcode:2017Geo....45.1023T. doi:10.1130/G39457.1. ISSN 0091-7613.
  14. ^ Mace, Mikayla. "Ocean muck used by UA researchers to study ancient monsoons, help improve forecasting". Arizona Daily Star. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  15. ^ Ummenhofer, Caroline C.; Kulüke, Marco; Tierney, Jessica E. (April 2018). "Extremes in East African hydroclimate and links to Indo-Pacific variability on interannual to decadal timescales". Climate Dynamics. 50 (7–8): 2971–2991. Bibcode:2018ClDy...50.2971U. doi:10.1007/s00382-017-3786-7. hdl:1912/10299. ISSN 0930-7575. S2CID 134263671.
  16. ^ "UArizona paleoclimatologist to receive NSF's highest early-career honor". University of Arizona News. 2022-04-20. Retrieved 2022-04-21.
  17. ^ "UA Scientists Selected as Authors for International Climate Report". UANews. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  18. ^ "UA Geoscientist Awarded Packard Fellowship". UANews. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  19. ^ "Pieter Schenck Awards". EAOG. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  20. ^ "Jessica Tierney Receives Macelwane Award from American Geophysical Union". Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Retrieved 2018-11-14.
  21. ^ Tierney, Jessica E.; Russell, James M.; Huang, Yongsong; Damsté, Jaap S. Sinninghe; Hopmans, Ellen C.; Cohen, Andrew S. (2008-10-10). "Northern Hemisphere Controls on Tropical Southeast African Climate During the Past 60,000 Years". Science. 322 (5899): 252–255. Bibcode:2008Sci...322..252T. doi:10.1126/science.1160485. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 18787132. S2CID 7364713.
  22. ^ Tierney, Jessica E.; Russell, James M. (2009-09-01). "Distributions of branched GDGTs in a tropical lake system: Implications for lacustrine application of the MBT/CBT paleoproxy". Organic Geochemistry. 40 (9): 1032–1036. doi:10.1016/j.orggeochem.2009.04.014. ISSN 0146-6380.
  23. ^ Tierney, J.E.; Russell, J.M.; Eggermont, H.; Hopmans, E.C.; Verschuren, D.; Sinninghe Damsté, J.S. (2010-09-01). "Environmental controls on branched tetraether lipid distributions in tropical East African lake sediments". Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. 74 (17): 4902–4918. Bibcode:2010GeCoA..74.4902T. doi:10.1016/j.gca.2010.06.002. ISSN 0016-7037.
  24. ^ Tierney, Jessica E.; Smerdon, Jason E.; Anchukaitis, Kevin J.; Seager, Richard (2013-01-17). "Multidecadal variability in East African hydroclimate controlled by the Indian Ocean". Nature. 493 (7432): 389–392. Bibcode:2013Natur.493..389T. doi:10.1038/nature11785. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 23325220. S2CID 4364392.
  25. ^ "Late-twentieth-century warming in Lake Tanganyika unprecedented since AD 500, Nature Geosci 3". 2010. CiteSeerX {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  26. ^ Tierney, Jessica E.; Russell, James M.; Sinninghe Damsté, Jaap S.; Huang, Yongsong; Verschuren, Dirk (2011-04-01). "Late Quaternary behavior of the East African monsoon and the importance of the Congo Air Boundary". Quaternary Science Reviews. 30 (7–8): 798–807. Bibcode:2011QSRv...30..798T. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2011.01.017. ISSN 0277-3791.
  27. ^ Tierney, Jessica E.; deMenocal, Peter B. (2013-11-15). "Abrupt Shifts in Horn of Africa Hydroclimate Since the Last Glacial Maximum". Science. 342 (6160): 843–846. Bibcode:2013Sci...342..843T. doi:10.1126/science.1240411. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 24114782. S2CID 26666581.
  28. ^ Tierney, Jessica E.; Oppo, Delia W.; Rosenthal, Yair; Russell, James M.; Linsley, Braddock K. (March 2010). "Coordinated hydrological regimes in the Indo-Pacific region during the past two millennia" (PDF). Paleoceanography. 25 (1): PA1102. Bibcode:2010PalOc..25.1102T. doi:10.1029/2009pa001871. hdl:1912/3863. ISSN 0883-8305.
  29. ^ Tierney, Jessica E.; Russell, James M.; Huang, Yongsong (2010-03-01). "A molecular perspective on Late Quaternary climate and vegetation change in the Lake Tanganyika basin, East Africa". Quaternary Science Reviews. 29 (5–6): 787–800. Bibcode:2010QSRv...29..787T. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2009.11.030. ISSN 0277-3791.

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