Dr Claire Witham

Areas of expertise

  • Atmospheric dispersion for emergency response applications
  • Volcanology and volcanic dispersion modelling
  • Regional pollution modelling

Publications by Claire Witham

Current activities

Claire is the Scientific Manager of the Volcanic and Chemical Dispersion group within the Atmospheric Dispersion and Air Quality Team in the Met Office's Weather Science area.  The group's focus is on research in the field of atmospheric dispersion and atmospheric composition.  This includes the development and application of the Met Office's Dispersion Model (NAME) for emergency response incidents, including industrial fires, chemical accidents, volcanic eruptions and other short and long-range pollutant transport events. 

Examples of such events include the eruptions in Iceland of Eyjafjallajokull 2010 and Bardarbunga in 2014-15, the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 and the spread of smoke from biomass burning in south east Asia.  This work is essential to the activities of many UK and international agencies and organisations and highly collaborative.

Claire's personal research has focused on improving the representation of volcanic eruptions in dispersion models and the pull through of science into operations, which involves collaboration with many Universities and institutions.  

Career background

Claire joined the Met Office in 2005 and worked in Atmospheric Dispersion Research developing air quality and trace gas modelling in the NAME model.  In 2009, she moved to the Met Office Hadley Centre to work as a Climate Services Consultant on climate change impacts for national and international government departments.  During this time Claire was involved in a range of high-profile climate science projects for the UK Government.  In 2011 Claire moved back to Atmospheric Dispersion Research following the Eyjafjallajokull eruption the previous year.  She became the Scientific Manager of the newly formed Volcanic and Chemical Dispersion Group in 2013 and was the Head of Atmospheric Dispersion and Air Quality from September 2018 to March 2020.

Prior to joining the Met Office, Claire did a PhD at the University of Cambridge investigating the dispersion, chemistry and human and environmental impacts of volcanic eruption plumes.  During this time she had the opportunity to work at a number of volcanoes and see first hand the impacts of these natural events.  Claire has an MPhil from the University of Cambridge and an undergraduate degree in Geophysical Sciences from the University of East Anglia.  

External Recognition

  • Member of the World Meteorological Organisation's Volcanic Ash Science Advisory Group (VASAG).
  • Member of the UK Atmospheric Dispersion Modelling Liaison Committee.
  • The Atmospheric Dispersion Group won the 2011 Civil Service Award for Science, Technology and Engineering for their work responding to the Icelandic eruptions and the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident.