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Dr Amy Donovan

Dr Amy Donovan

 CaptureLecturer in Geography and Environmental Hazards

Office: Bush House North East Wing, Room 5.13



Amy is an interdisciplinary geographer with a particular interest in the use of scientific advice in decision-making on active volcanoes. She obtained a first class BA (Hons) in English at the University of Cambridge, and did an M.Phil in Medieval Literature, before switching to Geosciences via the Open University, while working in publishing. In 2006-2007, she studied for an MSc in Geophysical Hazards at UCL, and in 2010 completed a PhD in the Department of Geography in Cambridge, examining the role of science at the policy interface on Montserrat.

Prior to coming to King's, Amy was a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge and Ottilie Hancock Research Fellow at Girton College. Her Leverhulme project involved investigations of volcanoes close to international borders, using both human and physical geographical methods. This followed from initial postdoctoral projects at the University of Cambridge (working on petrology and gas geochemistry) and the University of Sheffield (quantitative risk perception of experts and laypeople). Amy also taught widely across human and physical geography while in Cambridge, for example on expertise and knowledge, sociology of risk and volcanology. Amy is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and a Fellow of the Geological Society of London.

Research interests
  • Role of science in decision-making and policy in environmental hazard management and risk assessment
  • Philosophy and sociology of advisory science
  • Sociology of risk Igneous petrology
  • Volcanic gas chemistry and ground-based remote sensing

Amy's research deliberately reaches across the human-physical interface.

She has used methods and ideas from Science Studies, Policy Analysis, Social Psychology and Human Geography, as well as petrological and gas geochemical analysis. She is interested in what happens to "science" when it is applied to political and social questions - such as "when will the volcano erupt and what will happen when it does?" This involves the management of uncertainties of different kinds and also requires close scrutiny of what exactly constitutes "evidence" in different contexts and to different actors.

Amy uses physical geographical methods in two ways. She is interested in the role of volatiles in volcanic processes, particularly in relation to volcano forecasting and understanding pre-eruptive magma storage, and works with local partners in volcano observatories and monitoring institutions. She also uses scientific methods ethnographically in order to understand the processes and knowledges of science in practice. In combination with interviews with scientists and policymakers, and quantitative surveys of populations, these methods enhance the analysis of interesting questions about how societies relate to volcanoes through different knowledges and networks.

Amy's most recent work has brought these methods and ideas together in seeking to examine the management of volcanoes across borders. This has so far involved fieldwork in China, North Korea, Iceland, Chile and Argentina, funded by Leverhulme and the Royal Geographical Society.

Volcanic eruptions do not respect international boundaries, and their management requires collaboration between multiple nations. Amy is interested in how the dynamics of power and knowledge function in this context, and is exploring science diplomacy and geopolitical imaginations as conceptual frameworks.


Amy is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and teaches on a number of courses at King’s College London. She is also a personal tutor.

Amy teaches the following modules:

  • 4SSG0141 Geography Tutorials: Critical Thinking and Techniques
  • 5SSG2062 BSc Geography Research Tutorials
  • 5SSG2046 Fieldwork in Physical Geography
  • 6SSG3061 Current Research in Geography
  • 6SSG3076/7SSG5212 Geopolitics, people and place
  • 6SSG3070/7SSG5176 Global Environmental Change 1
  • 7SSG5002 Practising Social Research

Amy has also lectured and supervised at the University of Cambridge since 2008, covering:

  • Volcanic hazards
  • Changing cultures of risk
  • Science and policy
  • Risk theory
  • Seismic hazards
  • Geopolitics
  • Volcanology
  • Tectonics
  • Atmospheric processes

Amy has worked on a number of research projects in recent years. Below is a list of funded projects.

Volcanoes on borders: potentially explosive geopolitical agents (£82,954) was a three-year Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, co-funded by the Isaac Newton Trust (£62,985) at the University of Cambridge. This project examined the risk associated with volcanic eruptions close to international borders. It focussed on four case studies.

Science diplomacy in North Korea (RGS small grant; £3000) was a short project that involved field research in China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This project involved sharing petrological data with DPRK scientists and discussing the risks associated with Mount Paektu, a large stratovolcano on the border between China and the DPRK.

Volatile solubility at Nabro volcano, Eritrea was a NERC Ion Microprobe Facility award (valued at £12,500). This provided funding for analysing volatiles and trace elements in experimental products from Nabro.

Amy is also working in the IRIDeS-UK universities collaborative on global disaster risk reduction (PI: Anawat Suppasri, IRIDeS), funded by the International Research Institute for Disaster Science in Sendai Japan. She will visit Japan in January 2016 to carry out surveys and interviews concerning volcanic risk on Mount Zao.

Amy is a project partner on NERC Urgency grant The source and longevity of sulphur in an Icelandic flood basalt eruption plume (PI: Evgenia Ilyinskaya). This involved monitoring the 2014-15 Holuhraun eruption using a range of spectroscopic methods (DOAS, FTIR, Microtops).

Amy was a Postdoctoral Research Associate on the VOLDIES project (PI: Professor Steve Sparks; Co-I: Professor Dick Eiser). This involved carrying out surveys of volcanologists and populations using web-based methods. These surveys investigated expert and lay perceptions of risk, and the dynamics of trust.

Amy also worked on the DEMONS project (ERC; PI: Alain Burgisser; Co-I: Clive Oppenheimer), carrying out volcanic gas measurements using mini UV spectrometers; and on the NERC Urgency grant Mechanisms and implications of the 2011 eruption of Nabro volcano, Eritrea (PI: Clive Oppenheimer). This involved detailed petrological studies of the products of the 2011 eruption and earlier volcanism. Amy carried out high-pressure, high-temperature phase equilibrium experiments on the 2011 samples in collaboration with Bruno Scaillet at the Institut des Sciences de la Terre d’Orléans, and melt inclusion analysis in collaboration with Professor Jon Blundy at the University of Bristol.

Amy has received a number of conference travel grants, including funding from the Royal Society to attend the (invited) Commonwealth Science Conference, and a “Young scientist” award to attend the Integrated Research on Disaster Risk conference in Beijing in 2011.

Amy’s PhD was funded by an individual NERC-ESRC PhD studentship. She received a number of travel grants during her PhD studies.

Impact and outreach

Amy has given regular talks for schools and geographical societies over the last five years. She took part in two teaching conferences in 2013, and has also been involved in a number of Summer Schools and “Masterclasses” for sixth formers in Cambridge.

Amy has a number of active collaborations with volcano monitoring and civil protection institutions around the world. For example, she was involved in monitoring the 2014-15 eruption at Holuhraun in Iceland in collaboration with the Icelandic Meteorological Office.

Amy’s work has been featured on the Science in Development Network ( and she has worked with UK policymakers on a number of topics around risk.


For a full list of publications, please see Dr Donovan's research profile.


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