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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Prof. Claire Horwell, PhD

Professor of Geohealth 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 Prof. Claire Horwell (email at


2019 - present - Professor Institute of Hazard, Risk & Resilience (IHRR), Dept. of Earth Sciences, Durham University, UK

2016 - 2019- Associate Professor (Reader), 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 (and former 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


2007 – 2012 — Research Councils UK: Fellow

2005 – 2011 — NERC Postdoctoral Fellow

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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