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Dr Amy Donovan

Dr Amy Donovan

Lecturer in Geography and Fellow of Girton College



  • Oct 2017-present Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
  • Oct 2015-2018 Lecturer in Geography and Environmental Hazards, King's College London
  • Oct 2012-Sept 2015 Leverhulme/Newton Trust Early Career Fellow, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
  • Oct 2011-Sept 2015 Ottilie Hancock Research Fellow in Geography & College Lecturer, Girton College, Cambridge
  • Oct 2011-Sept 2012 Research Associate, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
  • June 2011-Sept 2012 Research Associate, Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield
  • 2002-2007 Freelance Copy-editor and Proofreader
  • 2001-2002 Freelance Publishing Researcher


  • 2015 Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • 2007-2010 PhD in Geography, Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Thesis: Emerald and andesite: Volcanology at the policy interface on Montserrat. Funding: NERC-ESRC. Supervisors: Dr Clive Oppenheimer and Dr Michael Bravo.
  • 2006-2007 MSc Geophysical Hazards, University College London. Thesis: Reconciling SO2 flux and ground deformation data on Mount Etna.
  • 2004-2006 Diploma in Geosciences, Open University
  • 2005-2006 Mathematical Methods and Modelling, Open University
  • 2002-2003 M.Phil Medieval Literature, Emmanuel College, Cambridge
  • 1998-2001 B.A English (first class), Emmanuel College, Cambridge

Awards, grants and scholarships

  • PI, ERC Starting Grant IMAGINE, Geographical Imaginations and the (geo)politics of volcanic risk: cultures, knowledges, actions, 2019-2024
  • Co-I, GCRF Urban Disaster Risk Interdisciplinary Research Hub, 2019-2024
  • Co-I, LANDSLIP consortium, NERC-DFID Science for Humanitarian Emergencies And Resilience (SHEAR) Programme, 2017-2021
  • Faculty Research Fund, KCL, £10,000 to co-organise workshop in Pyongyang 2016
  • Volatile solubility at Nabro volcano, Eritrea, NERC ion microprobe facility 2015
  • Royal Geographical Society small grant for "Science diplomacy in North Korea" 2015
  • Co-I, IRIDeS-UK universities collaborative research on global disaster risk reduction, Japanese Research Council, 2015
  • Project Partner on NERC Urgency grant to study the Holuhraun eruption, Iceland, December 2014
  • Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship, 2012-2015
  • Isaac Newton Trust, 2012-2015
  • Royal Society travel award for Commonwealth Science Conference, 2014
  • NERC-ESRC PhD Studentship, 2007-2010
  • Cities on Volcanoes travel grant, 2010
  • Philip Lake fund, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, 2009
  • William Vaughan Lewis, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, 2009
  • College prize, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, 2001
  • Bachelor Scholarship, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, 2001

Research interests

Amy's interests lie in the interface between the human and physical geographies of risk on volcanoes. She has applied both social and physical scientific methods to try to understand the complexities of societal interaction with science under uncertainty in this context, thinking about how knowledges of different kinds are produced, travel and are encountered. She collaborates worldwide with researchers on active volcanoes in Chile, Argentina, Iceland, Mexico, Japan, DPRK, China, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the USA and others. Amy also works in other precarious environments, including those prone to landslides and earthquakes. Current projects are based in India (landslides), four urban contexts prone to multiple disaster risks (Quito, Istanbul, Nairobi and Kathmandu) and in volcano-related multihazard environments in Latin America and East Africa.

Volcanoes on borders: Potentially explosive geopolitical agents

This project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Newton Trust, examines the scientific and political challenges associated with the management of volcanoes located close to international borders. Case studies are located in diverse developmental contexts and seek to examine the following questions:

(a) How is scientific study of the volcano organised between/within the countries involved?

(b) How are decisions made by each government, and do they communicate with each other?

(c) What are the key challenges facing global governance in association with potential transboundary eruptions, and how can they be dealt with effectively?

Four case studies have been selected, and methods that will be applied range from interviews, surveys and participant observation, to petrological and geochemical investigations whose results will be shared with local collaborators to gain insight into the process of scientific knowledge production and application in risk assessment across borders.

Other research projects

VOLDIES project

Amy worked on the VOLDIES project with Prof Dick Eiser (University of Sheffield) and Prof Steve Sparks (University of Bristol) from 2011 to 2012. This project involved carrying out multiple surveys of both scientists and lay people to examine several questions about risk perception and the differences between lay and expert assessments.

Petrological and gas geochemical analysis

Gas data from Iceland and Montserrat has been analysed using differential optical absorption spectroscopy, in close collaboration with Dr Vitchko Tsanev and Prof Clive Oppenheimer. Amy has also carried out petrological analysis of rocks from Iceland and the Nabro volcano in Eritrea as part of an ongoing project. Current work includes experiments on rocks from Nabro to constrain the pressure and temperature of the magma chamber that fed the 2011 eruption, in collaboration with Dr Joan Andujar and Dr Bruno Scaillet at the Institut des Sciences de la Terre d'Orleans.

PhD research - Emerald and andesite: Volcanology at the policy interface on Montserrat

Amy's Ph.D. research concerned the nature and use of volcanological expertise in advising policy makers on active volcanoes. This involved analysis of scientific data and reports, interviews with stakeholders, scientists and policymakers, and participant-observation. Key issues are the balance between research and monitoring activities at observatories, the use and benefits of new technologies for monitoring purposes, recent developments in risk assessment and the translation of science into the policy arena. Amy focussed on persistently active volcanoes, where there is long-term pressure on scientists to assess and predict volcanic hazards, and her primary field site is Montserrat, West Indies.

The Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK) provides a powerful lens through which volcanology can be examined in relation to other disciplines and to the history of science. The placing of volcanology both geographically and historically, and the pressures of public safety and political expediency have created a discipline that unites aspects of geochemistry and geophysics in a unique social and scientific context, heavily influenced by wider disciplines such as risk analysis and hazard management. Montserrat provided an ideal location for a transdisciplinary study of these relationships: the ongoing eruption has involved interaction between scientists and local authorities over 17 years, and has generated significant advancements both in academic science and in risk management.

The methods used for this project included 5 months of ethnographic study at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, interviews , document and questionnaire analysis, and scientific inference. Further fieldwork was carried out in Iceland and Italy. The project was funded by a NERC-ESRC studentship.


[Publications will load automatically from the University's publication database.]


Teaching 2017-2018:

  • Part IB Living with Global Change (coordinator and lecturer)
  • Part II Environmental Knowledge and the Politics of Expertise (coordinator and lecturer)
  • Director of Studies in Geography (IA, II), Girton College

External activities

Selected external activities:

  • Editorial Board, The Geographical Journal
  • Reviewer for Environment and Planning A, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Progress in Human Geography, Geographical Journal, The New Zealand Geographer, Applied Geography, Danish Journal of Geography, Journal of Applied Volcanology, Bulletin of Volcanology, Risk Analysis, Journal of Risk Research, Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, Journal of Policy and Management, Conflict Management and Peace Studies, Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, Political Geography.
  • Grant reviews: Leverhulme Trust, 2012, 2016; Belgian Research Action through Interdisciplinary Networks programme, 2013; NERC Strategic Research Impact Scheme Panel Member, 2014; King's Interdisciplinary Social Science ESRC DTP 2015; NERC Highlights 2016/7.
  • Co-organiser, Mount Paektu workshop, The Royal Society, July 2017
  • Co-convenor, London International Centre of Excellence for Risk Interpretation and Action (ICoE-RIA), Integrated Research on Disaster Risk Programme, International Council of Science (regular seminars and workshops at King's College London, involving UCL and LSHTM)
  • Co-organiser, UK Alliance for Disaster Research Inaugural Conference, January 2017
  • Co-convenor, "Gas, ash and aerosols", Volcanic and Magmatic Studies Group, January 2017
  • Co-organiser, First International Seminar on Mount Paektu, Pyongyang, August 2016
  • Co-organiser, "Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary practices" workshop, Cities on Volcanoes 2016.
  • IAVCEI Working Group for Volcanic Alert Level Systems
  • IAVCEI Interdisciplinary Working Group (Commission for Volcanic Hazards and Risk)
  • Co-convenor, "Management of volcanoes on international borders", Cities on Volcanoes 2016
  • New Scientist Live, September 2016: Project Doomsday – the Supervolcano Chapter
  • Member of the International Association for Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior (IAVCEI)
  • Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society
  • Fellow of the Geological Society of London
  • Member of the American Geophysical Union