David Armstrong McKay

David Armstrong McKay
University of Exeter | UoE · Global Systems Institute

PhD Ocean and Earth Science

About

22
Publications
4,199
Reads
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156
Citations
Introduction
I am fascinated by the co-evolution of the Earth, life, and human societies as a complex and dynamic system, and what this means for our future. My research uses numerical modelling and analysis to investigate Earth System resilience in the past and future, including climate-biosphere feedbacks and tipping points, dynamics and indicators of ecological resilience, and the sustainability of socio-ecological systems. Visit https://davidarmstrongmckay.com for more information.
Additional affiliations
February 2021 - present
Georesilience Analytics
Position
  • Researcher
Description
  • Current client: Consultant Researcher with Future Earth on the Earth Commission project, providing Earth system analysis and modelling support on setting safe nutrient targets for the ocean and climate tipping points (Feb.21 onwards). Side projects: Maintaining climatetippingpoints.info; gratis climate science consulting for good causes.
October 2018 - present
University of Exeter
Position
  • Research Associate
Description
  • Part-time on Leverhulme-funded Research Project Grant: ‘Quantifying the changing resilience of the climate system and ecosystems’ [University of Exeter, PI: TM Lenton] until March 2020, followed by continued involvement as an Associate Researcher.
April 2018 - December 2020
Stockholm Resilience Centre
Position
  • PostDoc Position
Description
  • Postdoctoral researcher on the Earth Resilience in the Anthropocene (ERA) project focusing on modelling nonlinear climate-biosphere feedbacks.
Education
October 2011 - September 2015
University of Southampton
Field of study
  • Thesis Title: Investigating the drivers of perturbations to the Cenozoic carbon-climate system

Publications

Publications (22)
Article
Agricultural intensification has significantly increased yields and fed growing populations across the planet, but has also led to considerable environmental degradation. In response an alternative process of ‘Sustainable Intensification’ (SI), whereby food production increases while environmental impacts are reduced, has been advocated as necessar...
Article
Full-text available
Several past episodes of rapid carbon cycle and climate change are hypothesised to be the result of the Earth system reaching a tipping point beyond which an abrupt transition to a new state occurs. At the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) at ∼ 56Ma and at subsequent hyperthermal events, hypothesised tipping points involve the abrupt transfe...
Preprint
Full-text available
Some ecosystems undergo abrupt transitions to a new regime after passing a tipping point in an exogenous stressor, for example lakes shifting from a clear to turbid ‘eutrophic’ state in response to nutrient-enrichment. Metrics-based resilience indicators have been developed as early warning signals of these shifts but have not always proved reliabl...
Article
Full-text available
The Earth's oceans are one of the largest sinks in the Earth system for anthropogenic CO2 emissions, acting as a negative feedback on climate change. Earth system models project that climate change will lead to a weakening ocean carbon uptake rate as warm water holds less dissolved CO2 and as biological productivity declines. However, most Earth sy...
Article
We are in a climate and ecological emergency, where climate change and direct anthropogenic interference with the biosphere are risking abrupt and/or irreversible changes that threaten our life-support systems. Efforts are underway to increase the resilience of some ecosystems that are under threat, yet collective awareness and action are modest at...
Preprint
The UN 2030 Agenda includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals towards improving access to resources and services, reducing environmental degradation and bringing down inequality. However, there is debate on the magnitude of the environmental burden that would arise from meeting the needs of the poorest, especially compared to much larger burdens fro...
Preprint
Climate tipping elements play a crucial role for the stability of the Earth system under human pressures and are potentially at risk of disintegrating within and partially even below the Paris temperature guardrails of 1.5-2.0°C above pre-industrial levels. However, current policies and actions make it very likely to, at least temporarily, transgre...
Article
Full-text available
The Swedish Varve Chronology is an unparalleled tool for linking the deglacial history of Sweden with associated palaeo‐environmental change at an annual time scale, and it forms part of Sweden's cultural heritage. A full deglacial chronology connected to the present day does not yet exist; a notable gap is in southeasternmost Sweden, where few var...
Data
Varve thickness data from legacy and newly-acquired annually-laminated sediment archives in varve years on the local Skåne-Småland timescale, along with the details of the sediment sites. Here we have reanalysed legacy data and incorporated our own new terrestrial and offshore data to create a new chronology, the Skåne-Småland varve chronology. Usi...
Preprint
Full-text available
The Earth’s oceans are one of the largest sinks in the Earth system for anthropogenic CO2 emissions, acting as a negative feedback on climate change. Earth system models predict, though, that climate change will lead to a weakening ocean carbon uptake rate as warm water holds less dissolved CO2 and biological productivity declines. However, most Ea...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Over the past 15 years climate tipping points have emerged as both an important research topic and source of public concern. Some articles have suggested that some tipping points could begin within the 1.5-2oC Paris climate target range, with many more potentially starting by the ~3-4oC of warming that current policy is projected to be committed to...
Article
We explore the evolutionary nature of interactions between government policy, farm decision-making and ecosystem services in Shucheng County, Anhui Province, 1950–2015. Analyses of ecological, social and economic trends are complemented by interviews with local farmers. Since the Household Responsibility System started in 1980, there has been a tra...
Preprint
Full-text available
Several past episodes of rapid carbon cycle and climate change are hypothesised to be the result of the Earth system reaching a tipping point beyond which an abrupt transition to a new state occurs. At the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) ~ 56 Ma, and at subsequent hyperthermal events, hypothesised tipping points involve the abrupt transfer...
Article
During the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), the carbon isotopic signature (δ13C) of surface carbon-bearing phases decreased abruptly by at least 2.5 to 3.0 ‰. This carbon isotope excursion (CIE) has been attributed to widespread methane hydrate dissociation in response to rapid ocean warming. We ran a thermohydraulic modeling code to simula...
Article
Full-text available
The Eocene-Oligocene Transition (EOT), ~34 million years ago, marks a tipping point in the long-term Cenozoic greenhouse to icehouse climate transition. Paleorecords reveal stepwise rapid cooling and ice growth across the EOT tightly coupled to a transient benthic δ13C excursion and a major and permanent deepening of the carbonate compensation dept...
Thesis
Full-text available
Over the course of the Cenozoic the Earth system has shifted from a CO2-rich ‘Greenhouse’ climate state to a CO2-poor ‘Icehouse’ climate state. This trend is punctuated by numerous perturbations to the carbon-climate system, but the extent of the coupling between the carbon cycle and climate system, the drivers of these perturbations, and their rel...
Article
Most paleo-episodes of ocean acidification (OA) were either too slow or too small to be instructive in predicting near-future impacts. The end-Cretaceous event (66 Mya) is intriguing in this regard, both because of its rapid onset and also because many pelagic calcifying species (including 100% of ammonites and more than 90% of calcareous nannoplan...
Article
Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs) have been emplaced throughout Earth's history, erupting great quantities (>104 km3>104 km3) of lava in long-lived (>105 y>105 y) events that have been linked to major environmental disruptions. The largest LIP eruptions (e.g. Siberian Traps) are widely considered to have had an impact on global climate through basalt...
Conference Paper
During the late Palaeogene the Earth’s climate shifted from a ‘Greenhouse’ to ‘Icehouse’ state, with a major episode of Antarctic glaciation and global cooling occurring at the Eocene-Oligocene Transition (EOT) ~34 million years ago. As illustrated in Figure 1, palaeorecords indicate that during the late Eocene global temperatures were high enough...
Conference Paper
Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs) can result in significant degassing of mantle-derived CO2 into the ocean-atmosphere system, but only the largest LIPs are considered to have had a significant impact on global climate. However, some smaller LIPs also coincide with times of global warmth and carbon cycle perturbations. Here we use biogeochemical box mo...

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Projects

Projects (5)
Archived project
The overarching aim of this research was to initiate and develop an evolutionary, complex systems approach to the future of farming in England Wales. This new approach is needed in order to provide an evidence base for a realistic assessment of the nonlinear interactions, emergent features, and negative and positive feedbacks that determine resilience and sustainability of different farm systems. As a strongly interdisciplinary study, it drew upon theory and methods from complex systems, ecosystem services, limnology, simulation modelling, and statistical analysis in order to produce regional, national and global contexts for contemporary and future UK agriculture. The first phase of the work (funded by the University of Southampton Institute for Life Science Research Stimulus Fund) was to review, assess and compile selected long-term records of farm decisions, farm economics, environmental stewardship activities, provisioning and regulating services in selected agricultural regions. The RSFP work focused on assessing the availability, timescales and quality of empirical records. First we assessed regional examples of major land use types as the basis for the programme, such as lowland arable, lowland pasture, marginal uplands and uplands (based on CEH/ITE Land Classification of UK and GFS priorities). Second, within the selected land use types, we reviewed from databases and literature the availability of historical records of biophysical, social and economic data to reconstruct/hypothesize the multi-decadal interactions between policy, farm decisions, yields and ecosystem services.
Project
In 2015, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate recognised the deteriorating resilience of the Earth system in the Anthropocene. Maintaining Earth in the interglacial state that enabled the world’s societies to evolve over the past ~10,000 years will require industrialised societies to embark on global-scale social transformations. Otherwise, there is a real risk of crossing tipping points in the Earth system triggering abrupt and irreversible changes. A critical gap is that although nonlinear social and biophysical dynamics are recognized, we remain trapped in linear thinking. Global analyses and modelling – despite much progress – do not adequately represent nonlinear processes and abrupt changes, and social responses to sustainable development are incremental. The goal of the ERA project is to fill this gap, by exploring the biophysical and social determinants of the Earth’s long-term stability, building up a novel community modelling platform for analysis of nonlinearity and abrupt shifts, and informing global sustainability policy processes. https://earthresilience.org/