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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-present 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

  • 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. She collaborates worldwide with researchers on active volcanoes in Chile, Argentina, Iceland, Mexico, Japan, DPRK, China, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the USA and others.

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 and reports


  • Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C."Modelling risk and risking models: The diffusive boundary between science and policy in volcanic risk assessment" Geoforum 58:153-165.
  • Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C. "At the mercy of the mountain? Field stations and the culture of volcanology" Environment and Planning A (in press).
  • Eiser, J.R., Donovan, A.R., Sparks, R.S.J. "Risk perceptions and trust following the 2010 and 2011 volcanic ash crises" Risk Analysis (in press).


  • Donovan, A.R., Eiser, J.R., Sparks, R.S.J. "Scientists' views about lay perceptions of volcanic risk" Journal of Applied Volcanology 3(1):1-14.
  • Donovan, A.R., Tsanev, V., Oppenheimer, C., Edmonds, M. "Reactive halogens (BrO and OClO) detected in the plume of Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat, during an eruptive hiatus" Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 15(8), 3346-3363.
  • Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C., Bravo, M., "Reflexive volcanology: Fifteen years of communicating risk and uncertainty in scientific advice on Montserrat" (in press), in Wadge et al. (eds) The eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat, 2000-2010, Geological Society Memoir, Geological Society, London.
  • Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C. "Managing the uncertain Earth: Geophysical hazards in the risk society", The Geographical Journal 180(1): 89-95.
  • Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C. "Extreme volcanoes: Disaster risks and societal implications" in A. Ismail-Zadeh, J. Fucugaughi, A. Kijko, K. Takeuchi, and I. Zaliapin, eds, Extreme natural hazards: Disaster risks and societal implications, Cambridge University Press.
  • Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C. "Science, policy and place in volcanic disasters: insights from Montserrat", Environmental Science and Policy 39:150-161.
  • Oppenheimer, C., Donovan, A.R. "On the nature and consequences of super-eruptions", in Elkins-Tanton, L., Schmidt, A., Fristad, K. (eds) Volcanism and global environmental change, Cambridge University Press.
  • Christopher, T., Humphreys, M.C.S., Barclay, J., Genareau, K., De Angelis, S.H.M., Plail, M., Donovan, A.R. "Petrological and geochemical variation during the Soufriere Hills eruption (1995-2010)", in Wadge, G, Robertson, R., Voight, B. (eds) The eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat, 2000-2010, Geological Society Memoir 39:317-342.
  • Moussallam, Y., Oppenheimer, C., Scaillet, B., Gaillard, F., Kyle, P., Peters, N., Hartley, M., Berlo, K. Donovan, A.R., "Tracking the changing oxidation state of Erebus magmas, from mantle to surface, driven by magma ascent and degassing", Earth and Planetary Science Letters 393, 200–209.


  • Donovan, A.R., Bravo, M., Oppenheimer, C., "Co-production of an institution: Montserrat Volcano Observatory and the social dependence on science" (2013), Science and Public Policy 40(2): 171-186 doi:10.1093/scipol/scs078.


  • Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C., Bravo, M. "Contested boundaries: Delineating the "safe zone" on Montserrat", Applied Geography 35(1-2): 508-514 doi:10.1016/j.apgeog.2012.10.003
  • Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C., Bravo, M. "Reply to comment from W.P Aspinall on 'Social studies of volcanology: knowledge generation and expert advice on active volcanoes'", Bulletin of Volcanology 74(6):1571-1574 doi:10.1007/s00445-012-0626-9.
  • Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C., "Governing the lithosphere: Insights from Eyjafjallajokull concerning the role of scientists in supporting decision-making on active volcanoes", Journal of Geophysical Research 117, B03214 doi:10.1029/2011JB009080.
  • Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C., Bravo, M., "The use of belief-based probabilistic methods in volcanology: scientists' views and implications for risk assessment" , Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research doi:10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2012.08.011.
  • Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C., Bravo, M., "Science at the policy interface: Volcano-monitoring technologies and volcanic hazard management" Bulletin of Volcanology 74(5): 1005-1022 doi:10.1007/s00445-012-0581-5.
  • Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C., "The Aviation Sagas: Volcanic Risk Revisited" The Geographical Journal doi:10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00458.x.
  • Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C., Bravo, M., "Social Studies of Volcanology: Knowledge-generation and expert advice on active volcanoes", Bulletin of Volcanology doi:10.1007/s00445-011-0547-z.


  • Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C., Bravo, M., "Rationalising a crisis through literature: Montserratian verse and the descriptive reconstruction of an island", Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 203(3-4):87-101 doi:10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2011.03.010.
  • Donovan, A.R. "Earthquakes and volcanoes: Risks from geophysical hazards" in Roeser, S., Hillerbrand, R., Sandin, P., Peterson, M., eds, The Handbook of Risk Theory Springer doi:10.1007/978-94-007-1433-5_14.
  • Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C., "The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption and the reconstruction of Geography", The Geographical Journal 177(1):4-11 doi:10.1111/j.1475-4959.2010.00379.x.


  • Barclay, J., Herd, R.A., Edwards, B.R., Christopher, T., Kiddle, E.J., Plail, M., Donovan, A.R., "Caught in the act: Implications for the increasing abundance of mafic enclaves during the recent eruptive episodes of the Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat", Geophysical Research Letters, Vol 37, L00E09, doi:10.1029/2010GL042509 (2010).

Book reviews

  • Donovan, A. (2014). "Dangerous Neighbours: Volcanoes and Cities." Mountain Research and Development, 34(4), 414-415.

Scientific reports

  • Donovan, A.R., Snorrason, A., Bergson, B., Pfeffer, M.A. "Report on gas emission measurements during the Holuhraun eruption, Iceland, from 18th to 22nd September, 2014". Icelandic Meteorological Office, October 2014.
  • Donovan, A.R., "Report to the MVO on the status of the petrological database", January 2010.
  • Donovan, A.R., "Report to the MVO on the whole-rock geochemistry of the Soufriere Hills magma", December 2009.

Policy briefs

  • Pelling, M., Donovan, A., Visman, E., Integrated science for Sendai Framework implementation. IRDR Issue Brief for the UNISDR Science and Technology Conference, January 2016.
  • Pelling, M., Visman, E., Donovan, A., Seven things we learned from science about disaster risk reduction. WEF for the UNISDR Science and Technology Conference, January 2016.

Invited presentations since 2015

  • Donovan, A.R., "Scientific challenges in understanding Mount Paektu: borderline stratigraphies", International Conference on Mount Baekdu, Seoul, Sept 2017.
  • Donovan, A.R., "Scientific advice in volcanic areas", Keynote, SAGES VALIDATE workshop, Dundee, Sept 2017.
  • Donovan, A.R., "Volcanoes on borders: Eruptions across nations and states". South Korean Seminar on Mount Baekdu, University of Konkuk, Seoul, March 2017.
  • Donovan, A.R., Buisman, I., Blundy, J.D., Oppenheimer, C. "The 2011 Nabro eruption: insights from petrology and geochemistry", Cambridge volcanology group, February 2017.Donovan, A.R., Kim Ju Song, Ri Kuk Hun, Kayla Iacovino, Clive Oppenheimer. "Overview of the petrological studies on Mount Paektu". Mount Paektu Geoscientific Group Pyongyang workshop, Science and Technology Centre, Pyongyang, August 2016
  • Donovan, A.R., "Volcanoes on borders: "Science diplomacy" in North Korea", Human Geography seminar series, King's College London, November 2015
  • Donovan, A.R., "Volcanoes on borders: Managing liminal science in Latin America", Global Science seminar series, Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, Cambridge, June 2015.

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

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