Professor Amy Donovan

Professor of Environmental Geography at Department of Geography, University of Cambridge

Lecturer in Geography and Environmental Hazards, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge

Dr Amy Donovan'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. Her research projects have included a global survey of volcano observatories to elucidate scientists' perceptions of risk (working with Professor Dick Eiser at the University of Sheffield, and Professor Steve Sparks at the University of Bristol), and analysis of petrological and gas geochemical data from Iceland and Montserrat (with Dr Clive Oppenheimer and Dr Vitchko Tsanev at the University of Cambridge).

Amy's PhD 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 is an ideal location for a transdisciplinary study of these relationships: the ongoing eruption has involved interaction between scientists and local authorities over 14 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.

  • In news articles

    The science of mitigating natural disasters

    As part of CSaP’s seminar series on government data, science, and evidence, Dr Amy Donovan from the University of Cambridge led a discussion on how science is used to generate effective warning systems in the face of impending natural disasters or environmental risks.