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Department of Earth Sciences

Staff and Postgraduate Students

Dr Claire Horwell, PhD

Associate Professor (Reader) in the Department of Earth Sciences
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 42253
Room number: Rm 248
Member of the Durham X-ray Centre
Management Board Member in Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 42253

Contact Dr Claire Horwell (email at


2016 - present - Associate Professor (Reader), Institute of Hazard, Risk & Resilience (IHRR), Dept. of Earth Sciences, Durham University, UK

2013 – 2016 — Senior Lecturer, Durham University, UK

2012 – 2013 — Lecturer, Durham University, UK

2012 – present — Co-Director of IHRR, Durham University, UK

2011 – present — Fellow of the Wolfson Research Institute, Durham University

2003 – present — Director of the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN)

2007 – 2012 — RCUK Fellow, Dept. of Earth Sciences, Durham University, UK.

2007 – 2011 — NERC Post-doctoral Fellow, Dept. of Earth Sciences, Durham University, UK.

2005 – 2007 — NERC Post-doctoral Fellow, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, UK.

2003  2005 — Leverhulme Trust Post-doctoral Researcher, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, UK

1999 – 2002  PhD – NERC-CASE Studentship, University of Bristol, UK

Career Research Highlights

I am founder/director of the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network, the umbrella organisation for volcanic health research and dissemination. I have acted as advisor to the World Health Organization, Public Health England (formerly the Health Protection Agency) and the UK Cabinet Office regarding the respiratory health hazards of volcanic ash. I also work with the New Zealand government and agencies, helping them to prepare for future volcanic eruptions.

My research interest is in understanding the health hazards of natural and industrial mineral dusts and in helping communities to prepare for, and protect themselves from volcanic emissions. My research is split into several, interdisciplinary strands:

Are mineral particles harmful when inhaled?

i) Physicochemical analysis of particles: use of mineralogical and geochemical techniques to assess respiratory hazard. These are combined with my students' and collaborators’ toxicological assessements to determine potential respiratory hazard of volcanic ash, combusted biomass, diatomaceous earth, desert dust and coal dust.

ii) Fundamental questions surrounding the ‘structure-toxicity’ relationship of mineral particles and interacting elements (e.g. anthropogenic pollution), and the variable toxicity of crystalline silica are also addressed through mineralogical, geochemical and toxicological analyses. Petrological techniques are also employed to understand how crystalline silica forms in volcanic systems (paricularly lava domes).

iii) Exposure assessments to airborne particles is a key part of determining potential hazard. My group regularly conducts air quality assessments using state-of-the-art portable aerosol monitors, in environmental and industrial settings.

How can communities prepare for, and protect themselves from, airborne volcanic emissions? 

iv) Public health guidelines on community protection are often generic. Working with Hawaii state and federal agencies, we worked with local communities to understand their lifestyles, and how their current protective strategies, in relation to the 'vog' emissions from Kilauea Volcano, relate to official advice. The findings of focus groups and social surveys enabled a new interagency partnership to revise official advice, which is now available through a dedicated online 'vog' portal ( and as a booklet, rack brochure and poster.

v) Working with the World Health Organization (PAHO) and governmental and non-governmental agencies in Indonesia, Mexico and Japan, the Health Interventions in Volcanic Eruptions (HIVE) project ( is building the first evidence base on effective respiratory protection for communities during volcanic eruptions. We are conducting laboratory experiments, social surveys (both anthropological and psychology-based) and a clinical trial.

Committee and Society Service (recent)

2017- present - President-elect and Founding Leader; GeoHealth Section, American Geophysical Union

2015- present - Member; Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) for volcanic eruptions, UK Government

2014 – 2017— Chair, Nominations & Awards Committee; International Medical Geology Association

2013 – 2015— Member; Expert Advisory Group for Risk H55, UK Government Cabinet Office

2011 – present — Member; Health Protection Agency expert panel for future ashfall affecting the UK

2011 – present — Member of Scientific Steering Committee and Project Partner; Global Volcano Model

2011 – 2014 — Chair, Education Committee; International Medical Geology Association

2010 – 2011 — Member; Scientific Advisory Committee for Iceland Eruptions; World Health Organization

2005 – 2007 — Representative for Health for the ICSU 5 GeoUnions Initiative; International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics

Editorial Roles

Associate Editor, Journal of Applied Volcanology


2007 – 2012 — Research Councils UK: Fellow

2005 – 2011 — NERC Postdoctoral Fellow

Recent and Current Grants

2015 - HIVE - Health Interventions in Volcanic Eruptions. Research Into Health in Humanitarian Crises Programme; Wellcome Trust & DfID.

2013 — VERTIGO – Volcanic ash: field, experimental and numerical investigations of processes during its lifecycle. EU Initial Training Network Co-I

2010 — Rapid assessment of the potential health hazard of ash from Eyjafjallajökull volcano, Iceland. NERC Urgency Grant. P.I.

2010 Fragmentation of volcanic dome rock for the assessment of respiratory health hazard of fresh particulate matter. Part of EVOKES ERC Advanced Investigator grant (Dingwell)

2008 — Moyes Foundation PhD Studentship Bursary. Volcanic cristobalite formation: A global study for the assessment of health hazard. 3 year Studentship from Jan. 2009. P.I.

2008 — NERC Urgency Grant. Rapid assessment of the potential health hazard of ash from Kilauea Volcano, Hawai’i. Extended after award to include Chaitén, Chile eruption. P.I.

Research Groups

Department of Earth Sciences

Department of Geography

Selected Publications

Chapter in book

  • Horwell, C.J., Baxter, P.J. & Kamanyire, R. (2015). Health Impacts of Volcanic Eruptions. In Global Volcanic Hazards and Risk. Loughlin, S.C., Vye-Brown, C., Sparks, R.S.J., Brown S.K. & Jenkins, S.F. Cambridge University Press.
  • Baxter, P.J. & Horwell, C.J. (2015). Impacts of eruptions on human health. In The Encyclopedia of Volcanoes. Sigurdsson, H., Houghton, B., McNutt, S., Rymer, H. & Stix, J. Elsevier.
  • Weinstein, P., Horwell, C.J. & Cook, A. (2013). Volcanic emissions and health. In Essentials of Medical Geology. Selinus, O., Alloway, B., Centeno, J.A., Finkelman, R.B., Fuge, R., Lindh, U. & Smedley P. Springer. 805.
  • Derbyshire, E., Horwell, C.J., Tetley, T. & Jones, T.P. (2011). Airborne Paricles. In Pollutants, human health and the environment: Introduction for environmental scientists and health professionals. Plant, J.A., Ragnarsdottir, K.V. & Vouvoulis, N. Wiley. 255-286.

Journal Article

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Departmental Contacts

RoleNameExtemail address
Head of Department Professor Andy Aplin 42332
Undergraduate Admissions Tutor Dr Richard J Brown 42303
Deputy Undergraduate Admissions Tutor Prof. Fred Worrall 42295
Chairman of the Board of Examiners Professor Ken McCaffrey 42299
Postgraduate Admissions Tutor Dr. Stuart Jones 42319
Department Manager Mrs Jill Hoult 42326
Learning & Teaching Administrator Mrs Janice Oakes 42310
Senior Finance Assistant Mrs Paula Elliott 43490
Finance Administrator Mrs Karen Atkinson 42318
Director of Postgraduate Studies Dr. Jeroen van Hunen 42293
Director of Research Dr Ed Llewellin 42336
Teaching and Learning Committee Chairman Dr Simon Mathias 43491
Director of Undergraduate Studies Dr Claire Horwell 42253
Staff-Student Liaison Committee Chairman Dr Claire Horwell 42253
Natural Sciences Academic Contact Prof. Yaoling Niu 42311
Safety Officer Dr Chris Ottley 42325
Safety Adviser Fieldwork Dr Nic de Paola 42333
Departmental Research Administrator Mrs Dianne Whatcott 42305

Departmental Superintendent Mr James Dyson 42281

Department International Coordinator Prof. Dave Selby 42294