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Dr Claire Witham

Claire leads research on dispersion models for emergency response

Claire leads the Volcanic and Chemical Dispersion group in the Atmospheric Dispersion and Air Quality team and conducts research into improving the use of dispersion models for emergency response.

Current activities

Claire leads the Volcanic and Chemical Dispersion group, which contributes to the Atmospheric Dispersion Research and Response area in the Atmospheric Dispersion and Air Quality Team.  The group's focus is on research in the field of atmospheric dispersion and the development and application of the Met Office Dispersion Model (NAME) for emergency response events, including industrial fires and volcanic eruptions, and for long-range pollutant transport.  Examples of such events include the eruptions in Iceland of Eyjafjallajokull 2010, Grimsvotn 2011 and Bardarbunga 2014-15, and the spread of smoke from biomass burning in south east Asia.  This work is essential to the activities of many UK and international organisations and highly collaborative.

Claire's personal research focuses 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.  She is also one of the hosts of the Met Office Mostly Weather Podcast.

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. She also led a regional climate modelling workshop using the Met Office's PRECIS (Providing Regional Climates for Impacts Studies) system to build in-country capacity in Climate modelling in Bangladesh. In 2011 Claire moved back to Atmospheric Dispersion Research following the Eyjafjallajokull eruption the previous year.

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).
  • 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.

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