Dr Nerilie Abram

Associate Professor
ARC QEII Research Fellow
J4, L29
 +61 2 61251978



About me

My research focuses on how the Earth’s climate has behaved over the last millennium, and what that tells us about the climate changes we are seeing now. The past climate records that I develop come from corals,  caves  and  ice cores. Field work is a particularly fun and challanging part of my job, and has taken me to Antarctica, Indonesia, Japan and Greenland. I also enjoy scientific outreach and education, and being able to explain why my research is important.

I am supported by an ARC Queen Elizabeth II research fellowship. I'm also an Associate Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science (ARCCSS) and I'm actively involved in a number of the international reconstruction teams for the Past Global Changes 2k projects.

Find me on Twitter @dr_nerilie


Recent news

September 2015: I am very pleased to have joined the coordination team for the PAGES 2k Network. September and October are also jammed packed with scientific workshops for the various 2k regional working groups, so there is lots of important and exciting new science underway.

May 2015: Thank you to the Australian Academy of Science; I'm very honoured to have recieved the Dorothy Hill award. See the talk I gave at the award ceremony on Australia's changing climate from the perspective of the past millennium.

April 2015: I've recently accepted an invitation to become a co-chief editor for the open access journal Climate of the Past. After a number of years working as an editor for this journal I'm excited to step into this new role as part of the co-chief team.

March 2015: I'm looking forward to lots of exciting new science over the next 5 weeks with my collaborators at the British Antarctic Survey. Many thanks to the ARC for the International Collaboration Award that has made this research visit possible.

February 2015: The Ocean2k synthesis of tropical SST reconstructions over the past 400 years has been published in Paleoceanography, and is available as open access. The data compilations and reconstructions are also available for download here.

December 2014: Thank you to the Australian Academy of Science. I am very honoured to recieve the 2015 Dorothy Hill Award.

November 2014: The anthology of 2014 Best Australian Science Writing is now available. It is very exciting to have been included alongside so many great Australian science communicators in this book. Well worth a read!

May 2014: Our 1000-year reconstruction of the Southern Annular Mode has been published in Nature Climate Change. Thanks to the ANU media team for putting together this great video about the work and why it is important for understanding changing rainfall patterns in southern Australia.

December 2013/January 2014: I'm very excited to be heading to Antarctica as part of the Aurora Basin ice core drilling team. Learn more about the project in this video, and follow our progress via the Australian Antarctic Division.


Where I've studied and worked

  • 2011-present: Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University
  • 2004-2011: British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council (Cambridge, UK)
  • 2000-2004: PhD, The Australian National University
  • 1996-1999: BSc Advanced with honours and university medal, University of Sydney


Images are from coral drilling of Krakatau tsunami blocks in Sunda Strait, 2012


Research interests


Research highlights


Tropical sea-surface temperatures for the past four centuries reconstructed from coral archives

Reconstructions of natural and human-induced climate change over the last millennium are primarily derived from land-based records, making it difficult to assess how climate changes have evolved across the large areas of ocean that cover the Earth. In this study, an international team of researchers has synthesised annually resolved coral records to produce sea surface temperature histories over four tropical ocean regions. The work is part of the Ocean2k project, as part of the wider Past Global Changes 2k initiative (PAGES2k).

Tierney, Abram et al., (2015) Paleoceanography, doi: 10.1002/2014PA002717. Links:  paper   data  


Evolution of the Southern Annular Mode during the past millennium

The winds that circle around the Southern Ocean determine how much rainfall falls over southern parts of Australia. These winds also affect the temperature of the ocean and air around Antarctica. This study shows that increasing greenhouse gas levels are causing the Southern Ocean winds to get stronger and pull in tighter around Antarctica, meaning that Australia misses out on winter rain and making parts of the Antarctic ice sheets more susceptible to melting.

Abram et al., (2014) Nature Climate Change, 4, 564-569. Links:  paper   data   press release   video


Acceleration of snow melt in an Antarctic Peninsula ice core during the twentieth century

This unique record of past ice melt shows that the current levels of melting on the Antarctic Peninsula are higher than at any other time over at least the last 1000 years. Melting has been increasing dramatically since the mid 20th century and the record gives a clear example of the potential for rapid increases in melting to even small amounts of warming in places where summer temperatures are close to 0 degreesC. Read more in the News and Views and The Conversation commentary pieces on this study

Abram et al., (2013) Nature Geoscience, 6, 404-411.  Links:  paper   data   press release


Recent Antarctic Peninsula warming relative to Holocene climate and ice-shelf history

The Antarctic Peninsula is warming faster than any other place in the Southern Hemisphere. In this work we developed the first ice core record from the Antarctic Peninsula spanning the full Holocene, showing that the very rapid rate warming in this region over the past 50 years is very unusual in a geological context. Read more in the News and Views and Real Climate pieces written by Eric Steig.

Mulvaney, Abram et al., (2012) Nature, 498, 141-144.  Links:  paper   data   press release


Ice core evidence for a 20th century decline of sea ice in the Bellingshausen Sea, Antarctica

Using the chemical fingerprints in an array of ice cores from around Antarctica this study was able to show the different regional patterns of sea ice retreat around Antarctica over the 20th Century. These long sea ice reconstructions contrast with the short satellite observations of Antarctic sea ice change, which have seen an overall increase in the extent of Antarctic sea ice since the 1980s.

Abram et al., (2010) Journal of Geophysical Research, 115, D23101, doi:10.1029/2010JD014644.  Links:  paper   BAS featured research. This 2013 invited review paper gives more details about how we can use ice cores to reconstruct Antarctic sea ice changes.


Oscillations in the southern extent of the Indo-Pacific Warm Pool during the mid-Holocene

This study showed that accurate assessments of past ocean temperatures can be obtained by looking at the bulk geochemical signal of large groups of fossil corals. Applying this to corals from offshore of Sumatra and Papua New Guinea showed that the very warm waters that lie to the north of Australia (and are important for bringing rain to parts of the country) have moved closer and further way from Australia at different times during the last 7000 years

Abram et al., (2009) Quaternary Science Reviews, 28, 2794-2803. Links:  paper   data


Recent intensification of tropical climate variability in the Indian Ocean

This study used corals to extend the short instrumental record of the Indian Ocean Dipole (the Indian Ocean's equivalent to El Nino) back by more than 100 years. This long perspective shows how unusual the recent cluster of strong and frequent IOD events is; whereas these events typically only occurred every 20 years at the start of the 1900s, we are now seeing events roughly every 4 years.

Abram et al., (2008) Nature Geoscience, 1, 849-853.  Links:  paper   data


Seasonal characteristics of the Indian Ocean Dipole during the Holocene epoch

Detailed analysis of the chemistry of fossil coral skeletons showed how the temperature and rainfall changes during Indian Ocean Dipole events changed when the Asian monsoon was stronger than today. Understanding the potential for future changes in the duration and intensity of Indian Ocean Dipole droughts will be important for climate change adaption in the Indian Ocean region.

Abram et al., (2007) Nature, 445, 299-302.  Links:  paper   data   news & views


Coral reef death during the 1997 Indian Ocean Dipole linked to Indonesian wildfires

Our team were Eureka Prize finalists for the unique finding that nutrients from wildfires can fertilise the ocean and lead to destructive algal blooms. The findings were based on the death of a 400km long section of reef off the coast of Sumatra following massive wildfires in 2007.

Abram et al., (2003) Science, 301, 952-955.  Links:  paper


Research funding

My research is supported by two Discovery Project grants awarded by the Australian Research Council. You can find out more about these projects in the links below.


Image from ice core drilling on James Ross Island, Antarctica, 2008



Many of these publications require an academic library subscription to read the full content. Please email me if you would like me to send you a pdf copy of any of these papers. You can also access my publication history through Google Scholar.

Funding acknowledgements give details for papers where the Australian Research Council supported the work through project costs and/or salary.



Abram, N.J., McGregor, H.V., Tierney, J.E., Evans, M.N., McKay, N.P., Kaufman, D.S. and the PAGES 2k Consortium (in revision). Early and asynchronous onset of industrial-era warming.  Funding support from DP110101161 and DP140102059.

Krause, C.E., Gagan, M.K., Dunbar, G.B., Helstrom, J.C., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L., Hantoro, W.S., Abram, N.J. and Rifai, H. (in revision). Meridional and zonal drivers of Australasian monsoon hydroclimate over the last 40,000 years.  Funding support from DP110101161.

Jones, J.M., Gille, S.T., Goosse, H., Abram, N.J., and 21 other co-authors (in revision). Are recent trends in high-latitude Southern Hemisphere climate unusual?  Funding support from DP110101161 and DP140102059.

Hobbs, W., Curran, M.A.J., Abram, N.J. and Thomas, E.R. (in revision). Century-scale perspectives on observed and simulated Southern Ocean sea ice trends. Funding support from DP110101161.



Thomas, E.R. and  Abram, N.J. (2016). Ice core reconstruction of sea ice change in the Amundsen-Ross Seas since 1702AD. Geophysical Research Letters, doi: 10.1002/2016GL068130. Funding support from DP110101161.

Vance, T., Roberts, J., Moy, A., Curran, M., Tozer, C., Gallant, A., Abram, N., van Ommen, T., Young, D., Blankenship, D., Siegert, M., and Grima, C. (2016). Optimal site selection for a high resolution ice core record in East Antarctica. Climate of the Past, 12, 595-610, doi:10.5194/cp-12-595-2016. Funding support from DP110101161 and DP140102059.



Tierney, J.E., Abram, N.J., Anchukaitis, K.J., Evans, M.N., Giry, C., Kilbourne, K.H., Saenger, C.P., Wu, H.C., Zinke, J. (2015). Tropical sea-surface temperatures for the past four centuries reconstructed from coral archives. Paleoceanography, 30, 226-252, doi: 10.1002/2014PA002717. Funding support from DP110101161 and DP140102059.

Abram, N.J., Dixon, B.C., Rosevear, M.G., Plunkett, B., Gagan, M.K., Hantoro, W.S. and Phipps, S.J. (2015). Optimised coral records of the Indian Ocean Dipole: an assessment of location and length considerations. Paleoceanography, 30, 1391-1405, doi: 10.1002/2015PA002810. Funding support from DP110101161 and DP140102059.

King, P.L., Edwards, A., and Abram, N.J. (2015) Recognising biases that affect women geoscientists in the workplace. Elements Magazine, 11 (April), 88-89.



Abram, N.J. (2014). Antarctic ice: going, going, ... In: The Best Australian Science Writing 2014 (ed. A. Hay).

Murphy, E.J., Clarke, A., Abram, N.J. and Turner, J. (2014). Variability of sea-ice in the northern Weddell Sea during the 20th century. Journal of Geophysical Research. doi:10.1002/2013JC009511. Funding support from DP110101161.

Abram, N.J., Mulvaney, R., Vimeux, F., Phipps, S.J. Turner, J. and England, M.E. (2014). Evolution of the Southern Annular Mode during the past millennium. Nature Climate Change, 4, 564-569. doi:10.1038/nclimate2235. Funding support from DP140102059 and DP110101161.



Abram, N.J. (2013). Antarctic ice...going, going,gone? In: The Curious Country (ed. L. Dayton). pp. 14-19. From the Office of the Chief Scientist and available as a free e-book through ANU Press

Abram, N.J., Mulvaney, R., Wolff, E.W., Triest, J., Kipfstuhl, S., Trusel, L.D., Vimeux, F., Fleet, L. and Arrowsmith, C. (2013). Acceleration of snow melt in an Antarctic Peninsula ice core during the twentieth century. Nature Geoscience, 6, 404-411doi:10.1038/ngeo1787. Funding support from DP110101161.

Abram, N.J., Wolff, E.W. and Curran, M.A.J (2013). A review of sea ice proxy information from polar ice cores.Quaternary Science Reviewsdoi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2013.01.011. Funding support from DP110101161.



Mulvaney R.*, Abram, N.J.*, Hindmarsh, R.C.A., Arrowsmith C., Fleet L., Triest J., Sime, L.C., Alemany O. and Foord, S. Recent Antarctic Peninsula warming relative to Holocene climate and ice shelf history (2012),Nature, 489, 141-144, doi:10.1038/nature11391. *equal contributions.   Funding support from DP110101161.

Wheatley, J.J., Blackwell, P.G., Abram, N.J., McConnell, J.R., Thomas, E.R. and Wolff, E.W. (2012). Automated ice-core layer-counting with strong univariate signals. Climate of the Past 8, 1869-1879, doi:10.5194/cp-8-1869-2012



Abram, N.J., Mulvaney, R. and Arrowsmith, C (2011). Environmental signals in a highly resolved ice core from James Ross Island, Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research. 116, D20116, doi:10.1029/2011JD016147

D’Arrigo R., Abram N.J., Ummenhoffer C., Palmer J. and Mudelsee M. (2011). Reconstructed streamflow for Citarum River, Java, Indonesia: linkages to tropical climate dynamics. Climate Dynamics 36, 451-462, doi:10.1007/s00382-009-0717-2.

Gagan, M.K. and Abram, N.J. (2011). Stable isotopes and trace elements. In Hopley, D. (ed) Encyclopedia of modern coral reefs: structure, form and process. Encyclopedia of Earth Science Series, Springer-Verlag.



Abram, N.J., Thomas, E.R, McConnell, J.R., Mulvaney, R., Bracegirdle, T.J., Sime, L.C., and Aristarain, A.J. (2010). Ice core evidence for a 20th century decline of sea ice in the Bellingshausen Sea, Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research 115, D23101, doi:10.1029/2010JD014644.

Rothlisberger R., Crosta X., Abram N.J., Armand L. and Wolff E.W. (2010). Potential and limitations of marine and ice core proxies: An example from the Indian Ocean sector. Quaternary Science Reviews 29, 296-302, doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2009.10.005.



Abram N.J., McGregor H.V., Gagan M.K. Hantoro W.S. and Suwargadi B.W. (2009). Oscillations in the southern extent of the Indo-Pacific Warm Pool during the mid-Holocene. Quaternary Science Reviews 28, 2794-2803, doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2009.07.006. Funding support from DP0663227.

Ault T.R., Cole J.E., Evans M.N., Barnett H., Abram N.J., Tudhope A.W. and Linsley B.K. (2009). Intensified decadal variability in tropical climate during the late 19th century, Geophysical Research Letters 36, L08602, doi:10.1029/2008GL036924.

Hodgson, D.A., Abram, N.J., Anderson, J., Bargelloni L., Barrett P., Bentley M.J., Bertler N.A.N., Chown S., Clarke A., Convey P., Crame A., Crosta X., Curran M., di Prisco G., Francis J.E., Goodwin I., Gutt J., Masse G., Masson-Delmotte V., Mayewski P.A., Mulvaney R., Peck L., Portner H.-O., Rothlisberger R., Stevens M.I., Summerhayes C.P., van Ommen T., Verde C., Verleyen E., Vyverman W., Wiencke C. and Zane L. (2009)Antarctic climate and environmental history in the pre-instrumental period. In: Turner, J. Convey P., di Prisco G., Mayewski P.A., Hodgson D.A., Fahrbach E, Bindschadler R. and Gutt J. (eds) Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment. Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research, Cambridge.



Abram N.J., Gagan M.K., Cole J.E., Hantoro W.S., and Mudelsee M. (2008). Recent intensification of tropical climate variability in the Indian Ocean, Nature Geoscience 1 (12), 849-853, doi:10.1038/ngeo357. Funding support from DP0342017 and DP0663227.

McGregor H.V. and Abram N.J. (2008). Images of diagenetic textures in Porites corals from Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems 9 (10), Q10013, doi:10.1029/2008GC002093.

Reda T., Plugge C.M., Abram N.J. and Hirst J. (2008). Reversible interconversion of carbon dioxide and formate by an electroactive enzyme. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105 (31), 10654-10658, doi:10.1073/pnas.0801290105.

Abram N.J., Curran M.A.J., Mulvaney R. and Vance T. (2008). The preservation of methanesulphonic acid in frozen ice-core samples. Journal of Glaciology 54 (187), 680-684.



Abram N.J., Mulvaney R. Wolff E.W. and Mudelsee M. (2007). Ice core records as sea ice proxies: An evaluation from the Weddell Sea region of Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research 112, D15101, doi:10.1029/2006JD008139.

Abram N.J., Gagan M.K., Liu, Z., Hantoro W.S., McCulloch M.T. and Suwargadi B.W. (2007). Seasonal characteristics of the Indian Ocean Dipole during the Holocene epoch, Nature 445, 299-302, doi:10.1038/nature05477. Funding support from DP0342017 and DP0663227.



Abram N.J., Gagan M.K., Mcculloch M.T., Chappell J., and Hantoro W.S. (2004) Sudden death of a coral reef. Science 303, 1293-1294, doi:10.1126/science.303.5662.1293b

Grumet N.S., Abram N.J., Beck J.W., Dunbar R.B., Gagan M.K. Guilderson T.P., Hantoro W.S. and Suwargadi B.W. (2004). Coral radiocarbon records of Indian Ocean water mass mixing and wind-induced upwelling along the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, Journal of Geophysical Research 109, C05003, doi:10.1029/2003JC002087



Abram N.J., Gagan M.K., McCulloch M.T., Chappell J. and Hantoro W.S. (2003). Coral reef death during the 1997 Indian Ocean Dipole linked to Indonesian wildfires, Science 301, 952-955, doi:10.1126/science.1083841. Funding support from DP0342017.



Abram N.J., Webster J.M., Davies P.J. and Dullo W-C. (2001). Biological response of coral reefs to sea surface temperature variation: Evidence from the raised Holocene reefs at Kikai-jima (Ryukyu Islands, Japan),Coral Reefs, 20, 221-234, doi:10.1007/s003380100163

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