Ellen Thomas, the outgoing Editor in Chief of Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology
Ellen Thomas, the outgoing Editor in Chief of Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology looking at a core with sediment deposited during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, Leg 208 of the Integrated Ocean Discovery Program, Walvis Ridge, Southeast Atlantic Ocean, 2003. Covers of the journal from January 2017 and November 2019. Credit: Ellen Thomas / AGU

Scientists reconstructing climates, environments, and ecosystems of the past can be seen as balancing between past and future: on one hand we use observations in the present world as a key to understand what happened in the past, but on the other hand—and increasingly so—we  use what we see in non-analog past worlds as a way to predict a potentially non-analog near future. Having recently ended my term as Editor in Chief of Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, I feel somewhere between past and future of the journal.

Expanded scope, change in name

I started my term in December 2015 as Editor in Chief of Paleoceanography, to end my term as EiC of Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology in December 2019. The change in name occurred instantaneously on 01 January 2018. However, we can interpret this change (as I did in 2017) as a tipping point, i.e., a sudden change reflecting a much longer-term evolution, running invisibly below the surface.

In 2014, my predecessor Chris Charles announced that the scope of the journal had expanded to embrace all aspects of global paleoclimatology, as reflected in an informal name change Paleoceanography: An AGU Journal exploring Earth’s Paleoclimate. The AGU Focus Group (now Section) Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology was deeply involved in the decision to formalize this name change, and its president Figen Mekik organized a survey in 2016: more than 65% of the 751 respondents voted in favor.

Over the life time of the journal Paleoceanography (1986-2017), our scientific undertaking vigorously evolved, from using mainly ocean-based data to our present investigations of global change involving linkages between open-ocean sediment proxy records and records from a broad range of environments and recorders: corals, ice cores, coastal marshes, speleothems and lakes, and building ever-expanding two-way connections between data and understanding through earth system and climate modeling. It is fully in line with this evolutionary process that my successor, Matt Huber, is a climate modeler, with no primary home-base on land or in the sea.

The data challenges

Important for our journal has been the adoption by AGU of the FAIR data standards (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable. In practice, this change involved the requirement that authors place data in an online repository, making them easier to find and access than data in supplements of varying formats.

It does not need saying that since its inception in 1986, Paleoceanography has been at the forefront of data-sharing: the field of research obviously requires comparing data across time and space. However, even after addressing the F and A in FAIR data, we have far to go to ensure the I and R, and we need community input to reach that goal.

As a simple but widely experienced example, far too many paleoceanographers have spent too much of their time trying to figure out, redo, and standardize numerical age models and accumulation rates. I am therefore thrilled that Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology published a paper entitled PaCTS 1.0: A Crowdsourced Reporting Standard for Paleoclimate Data, by Deborah Khider and more than 90 co-authors which opens a dialog for working on the standards needed to ensure that our data are truly interoperable and reusable by our colleagues.

Hopes for the future of the journal

One of my hopes for the future of the journal is that it will remain a community resource for collaboration in ensuring that our hard-won proxy data are as well and extensively used as possible, and for keeping communication lines open within the community. A related hope for the future is that Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology will remain and further develop as the journal where we as a community can look at an honest analysis of the precision and accuracy of our proxies, as well as potential boundary conditions for their use.

More and more stable isotope, organic biomarker and trace element proxies are being developed for more and more environmental parameters. With environmental parameters for which we now have multiple proxies, such as sea surface temperature, we have the opportunity to see more and more discrepancies (for example, Lawrence & Woodard, 2017; Zhang & Liu, 2018; Gray & Evans, 2019). Evaluation of differences between proxies is fundamentally important, since we need it to understand our proxies and their limitations.

I hope that Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology will persist in offering quantitative and integrative analysis of coupled ocean-atmosphere-biosphere processes, as well as thoughtful explorations of limitations as well opportunities, being not just a place to publish papers, but a forum for our community to discuss how we practice our craft.

I am confident that I leave the journal in the best of hands, and that the new Editor in Chief Matt Huber and co-editor Ursula Röhl will keep the journal in excellent shape at a time of continual changes in the world of scientific publishing, with ongoing developments as to open access for the global community.


I want to end by expressing my heartfelt thanks to all current and former members of our editorial team for their readiness to give their time, enthusiasm and professionalism: co-editors Heiko Pä­like and Steve Barker, as well as Associate Editors Helen Bostock, Gabe Bowen, Min-Te Chen, Oliver Friedrich, Nathalie Goodkin, Guy Harrington, Bärbel Hönisch, Sandy Kirtland-Turner, Matt Lachniet, Zhifei Liu, Chris Poulsen, Isabella Raffi, Chris Reinhard, Jim Russell, Joellen Russell, Dani Schmidt, Liz Sikes, Ryuji Tada, and Dave Thornally. Thank you all so much, all that work was much more yours than mine.

Finally, thanks to the staff in the AGU Publications Department: Robert Dawdy, Randy Townsend, Paige Wooden, and Sara Young. Despite my tendency to complain loudly and repeatedly to you all, I truly appreciate your assistance, without which I could not have functioned.

—Ellen Thomas (ellen.thomas@yale.edu;  0000-0002-7141-9904), Department of Geology & Geophysics, Yale University


Thomas, E. (2020), Between past and future, Eos, 101, https://doi.org/10.1029/2020EO140543. Published on 25 February 2020.

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