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Prof Amy Donovan

Professor of Environmental Geography and Fellow of Girton College



  • Oct 2023 to present Professor of Environmental Geography, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
  • Jan 2023-Sept 2023 University Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
  • Oct 2017-Dec 2022 University Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
  • Oct 2015-Dec 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 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.

ERC Starting Grant: IMAGINE

Amy is Principal Investigator of the ERC Starting Grant “IMAGINE: Geographical Imaginations and the (geo)politics of volcanic risk: cultures, knowledges, actions”. IMAGINE, which started in July 2019, is a five-year project funded by the European Research Council, working with scientists, officials and communities in Latin America and East Africa. It takes an innovative approach to understand the relationships between communities and the precarious environments that they inhabit – particularly in the context of rapid global change. The project focuses on case study locations in Argentina, Chile, Peru, Kenya and Tanzania, all of which are subject to volcanic risk accompanied by risk from flooding and debris flows (as a result of a changing climate). The case study locations are also all in close proximity to international borders. The project is highly interdisciplinary and will involve working closely with scientists in-country as well as with communities.

Mount Paektu Research Centre (Mount Paektu Geoscientific Group)

Amy is part of a long-term project collaborating with researchers in the DPR Korea concerning volcanic risk and activity at Mount Paektu, an active volcano on the border between DPRK and China. This involves both science studies and petrological work with Korean and Chinese colleagues.

Older research projects

Tomorrow’s Cities

Tomorrow’s Cities is a £20m GCRF Interdisciplinary Research Hub working to reduce the risk from disasters to the urban poor in four cities: Quito, Nairobi, Istanbul and Kathmandu. Amy led work on “Science in Society” as part of this – working closely with the Social Science Research College across the case study cities.


Landslip was a four-year NERC-DFID project that forms part of the Science for Humanitarian Emergencies And Resilience (SHEAR) programme. It is a consortium project that is working on landslide risk in India, using a combination of social and physical scientific methods. Amy worked on the social science work packages.

Volcanoes on borders: Potentially explosive geopolitical agents

This project (2012-2015), funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Newton Trust, examined 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.

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 was Montserrat, West Indies. 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.

Current PhD students

  • Carolyn Smith, “Cross-border Indigenous Cosmologies and Active Volcanism in Chile and Argentina”
  • Ben Thurlow (co-supervised with Professor Alex Jeffrey), “From ‘zero-tolerance’ to ‘living with the virus’: Geographies of containment in the elite political discourse of COVID-19 in New Zealand”
  • Ellen Kujawa, “Identifying data gaps and understanding policy in transboundary natural hazard management”
  • Owain Smith (co-supervised with Professor Clive Oppenheimer), “A case study of Antillanca, Chile – Assessing risks posed by volcanoes with no historical eruptions”
  • Ainsley Trahan, ” Gender Transformative Early Warning Systems: An Analysis of Heat Early Warning Systems in Ahmedabad, India”
  • Cecilia Reed (co-supervised with Professor Clive Oppenheimer and Dr Anna Hicks), “No Man’s Land: Volcanic Terrain, Vulnerability and Imaginative Embodiment”
  • Mia Wroe (co-supervised with Professor Marie Edmonds), “Dangerous waters: investigating the distribution and social impacts of volcanic metal and volatile pollution in the East African Rift”
  • Mihaiela Swift, “Spatialising the interactions between people, animals, volcanic hazard and local perceptions and responses to Popocatepetl volcano, Mexico” (based at KCL)
  • Joshua Nicholas, “Preparing for natural hazard disasters during a climate crisis: the influence of culture on people’s interaction with multi-hazard risk on the Commonwealth of Dominica.”

PhD students recently submitted

  • Gaurab Dawadi, “Understanding transboundary aspects of early warning systems and their cultural context in India/Nepal” (based at KCL)
  • Peter McGowran, “Cascading vulnerability and the politics of early warning in Darjeeling and East Sikkim” (based at KCL)
  • Shreyasi Choudhury, “Bayesian network approaches to multihazard early warning” (based at KCL)
  • Qiaonan Li, “Disaster risk reduction and the challenges of local policy implementation in China: the case of building regulations” (based at KCL)

Potential PhD students

I’m afraid that I cannot currently take on any further applications for PhD students for 2025 or 2026.


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


  • MPhil in Anthropocene Studies – Deputy Director
  • MPhil in Anthropocene Studies and MPhil in Holocene Climates: Interdisciplinary Concepts convenor
  • Part II Life within Limits lecturer
  • Part II Volcanology lecturer

External activities

Selected external activities:

  • Co-chair of the UK Alliance for Disaster Research
  • Editorial Board, Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences
  • Editorial Board, Volcanica
  • Editorial Board, The Geographical Journal (2016-2018)
  • 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.
  • REF Advisor for Geography and Environment, Liverpool Hope University 2018-2020
  • 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; various NERC and ESRC panels; BELSPO 2019; Swiss NSF 2018.
  • 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
  • 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


Selected outreach activities:

  • RGS Schools Lecture on Hazards, October 2018
  • Various media (TV, radio) for BBC and others, internationally
  • Featured in “Meet the expert”, DK Find Out! Earth volume
  • Deptford Science Festival, February 2017:Project Doomsday – the Supervolcano Chapter (with Shrinking Space)
  • New Scientist Live, September 2016: Project Doomsday – the Supervolcano Chapter (with Shrinking Space)
  • Regular talks in schools, teaching conferences etc.