Scott McDougall

Associate Professor

Research Interests

Debris flows / floods
Landslide-generated waves
Natural and man-made geological hazards
Rock avalanches
Shoreline erosion
Tailings dam breaches

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs



Master's students
Doctoral students

Complete these steps before you reach out to a faculty member!

Check requirements
  • Familiarize yourself with program requirements. You want to learn as much as possible from the information available to you before you reach out to a faculty member. Be sure to visit the graduate degree program listing and program-specific websites.
  • Check whether the program requires you to seek commitment from a supervisor prior to submitting an application. For some programs this is an essential step while others match successful applicants with faculty members within the first year of study. This is either indicated in the program profile under "Admission Information & Requirements" - "Prepare Application" - "Supervision" or on the program website.
Focus your search
  • Identify specific faculty members who are conducting research in your specific area of interest.
  • Establish that your research interests align with the faculty member’s research interests.
    • Read up on the faculty members in the program and the research being conducted in the department.
    • Familiarize yourself with their work, read their recent publications and past theses/dissertations that they supervised. Be certain that their research is indeed what you are hoping to study.
Make a good impression
  • Compose an error-free and grammatically correct email addressed to your specifically targeted faculty member, and remember to use their correct titles.
    • Do not send non-specific, mass emails to everyone in the department hoping for a match.
    • Address the faculty members by name. Your contact should be genuine rather than generic.
  • Include a brief outline of your academic background, why you are interested in working with the faculty member, and what experience you could bring to the department. The supervision enquiry form guides you with targeted questions. Ensure to craft compelling answers to these questions.
  • Highlight your achievements and why you are a top student. Faculty members receive dozens of requests from prospective students and you may have less than 30 seconds to pique someone’s interest.
  • Demonstrate that you are familiar with their research:
    • Convey the specific ways you are a good fit for the program.
    • Convey the specific ways the program/lab/faculty member is a good fit for the research you are interested in/already conducting.
  • Be enthusiastic, but don’t overdo it.
Attend an information session

G+PS regularly provides virtual sessions that focus on admission requirements and procedures and tips how to improve your application.



These videos contain some general advice from faculty across UBC on finding and reaching out to a potential thesis supervisor.

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Improved empirical and numerical predictive modelling of potential tailings dam breaches and their downstream impacts (2023)

Tailings dams are a fundamental component of mining infrastructure as they retain mine tailings, a complex material composed of finely ground rock, water and process effluent. Tailings dam breaches (TDBs) can cause catastrophic tailings flows that travel fast, cover large areas and cause widespread inundation. The ability to understand and predict the motion of tailings flows is a crucial step in protecting people, infrastructure and the environment. This thesis aims to improve predictive empirical and numerical models of potential tailings dam breaches and their downstream impacts to help practitioners develop more reliable inundation maps, dam classifications and emergency response and preparedness plans.To do so, a new tailings flow runout classification system was first developed. A comprehensive database of 33 TDBs was then compiled, and a new volume vs. inundation area relationship was developed for tailings flow runout prediction. Comparisons with similar relationships developed for other types of mass movements indicated that tailings flows are, on average, less mobile than lahars but more mobile than non-volcanic debris flows, rock avalanches, and waste dump failures. The adaptability of four numerical models to tailings flow runout modelling was also explored by conducting back-analyses of two well-described historical TDBs through a benchmarking exercise. The results showed that all four models are capable of reproducing the bulk characteristics of the real events. However, the study also highlighted challenges in the selection of appropriate model input parameter values and the need to develop better guidance on the use of these types of models for tailings flow runout prediction.To address these challenges through improved understanding of numerical model uncertainties and sensitivities, the First-Order Second-Moment (FOSM) methodology was applied to a sub-database of 11 back-analyzed historical tailings flows using the HEC-RAS numerical model. The results showed that the total released volume is among the top contributors to the sensitivity of modelled inundation area and maximum flow depth, while surface roughness is among the top contributors to the sensitivity of modelled maximum flow velocity and flow front arrival time. The FOSM methodology was also used to demonstrate a probabilistic approach to model-based tailings flow runout prediction.

View record

Modelling variability in mobility for rapid landslide runout (2022)

Rapid, flow-like landslides, such as rock avalanches and debris flows, cause human and economic losses around the world. The hazards associated with these events are partly related to the spatial runout extent of the flows, and their depth and velocity at elements at risk, which are highly uncertain. This work details the development of methods to estimate the variability of spatial impacts and the impact intensity with statistical models, and by examining the ranges of outcomes in numerical models.Descriptive attributes and mapping techniques were described, and two datasets of rock avalanches and sediment mass flows associated with rock avalanches were compiled. These data were used to develop statistical models to estimate probabilities for a range of potential impacts. These methods provide a new way to assess rock avalanche runout, and a first method for preliminary prediction of mobilized sediment runout.Large rock avalanches or flowslides can generate signals that can be detected by seismometers. Seismic data were used along with aerial imagery to constrain numerical simulations of rock avalanche events considering multi-stage initiations, examining how variability in the model parameters and initiation conditions affected variability in the runout and intensity. This work revealed the modelled seismic signature of a landslide was highly sensitive to the initiation conditions, showing the possibility of multi-stage initiation is an important consideration in understanding landslide dynamics. Observations of debris flows show complex flow patterns, with surges of high discharge followed by periods of low discharge. This surging behaviour is well known, but has not been incorporated into numerical landslide runout models before. By examining the interactions between topography, model parameters and inflow conditions, it was found that all three of these factors interact and influence the simulation results. Substantial variation in the model results could be achieved by varying the model inflow with all other model inputs held constant. The observed variability demonstrates the importance of considering surging behaviour when estimating debris flow impacts. This thesis demonstrates new methods to estimate landslide impacts considering sources of variability that are observed in nature, and provides a framework for both professional application and future research.

View record

Advancement and calibration of a 3D numerical model for landslide runout analysis (2017)

Rapid landslides pose a significant hazard worldwide, and there is currently no routine way of predicting the impact area and velocities of these catastrophic events. Increased development in marginal areas is changing the landslide risk in many parts of the world. There is an urgent need for practical methods to predict the motion of these tragic events to cope with this changing risk. Practical methods currently in use rely on simplified landslide statistics that have a high degree of uncertainty, and are often unable to predict landslide velocities. The focus of this thesis is on developing practical methods to reliably predict the motion of rapid landslides so that public safety in landslide prone areas can be improved.This thesis makes extensive use of runout modelling in order to analyse the motion of rock avalanches, debris avalanches and flowslides. The work presented here can be broadly divided into two categories; the development of new tools and techniques to model flow-like landslide motion, and the compilation and analysis of a database of case histories. The new tools include: 1) A new rheology appropriate for the simulation of liquefied materials; 2) A new dynamic model to simulate the initially-coherent motion of some rock and debris avalanches; 3) Two new calibration methodologies. These techniques were then applied to a database of rock avalanches, debris avalanches and flowslide case histories in order to infer movement mechanisms and give guidance for forward prediction. The main findings include: 1) The character of the path materials is a plausible explanation for the mechanism governing rock avalanche motion. Based on this, a probabilistic framework to predict rock avalanche motion was suggested; 2) A back-analysis of a fatal debris avalanche that occurred in British Columbia in 2012 revealed that this flow was likely moving in an undrained condition, which had significant implications for the analysis of its motion; 3) It was found that flowslides can occur in fine grained colluvium, and this material should be recognized as potentially liquefiable.

View record

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Compilation and critical assessment of observations from a selection of historical tailings dam breach events for numerical breach and runout modelling (2023)

Tailings Dam Breach Analyses and various modelling software are used to estimate consequences of a hypothetical failure at a Tailings Storage Facility. The results of such forward-analyses are used in risk assessments and emergency planning. Many model inputs and approaches are currently based on expert judgment or adapted from other fields. There is some existing research and guidance for modelling approaches applicable for Tailings Dam Breach Analyses, however, there are few resources available that assess the hydrotechnical and geotechnical characteristics for dam breach and runout modelling from multiple diverse events. This presents a challenge for the experts who must make specific judgements for forward-analysis with little available hindsight into previous events.To address this knowledge gap, detailed investigations into 12 historical tailings dam breach events across a range of Tailings Storage Facility arrangements and taxonomies were completed. The investigations considered the outflow volumes, breach characteristics, and observations of downstream impacts. Some of these values or observations were previously reported by others for some events, but never previously compiled for the specific purpose of breach and runout modelling. These previous reports were critically assessed and included where relevant. Several original interpretations were made, and novel data were uncovered for many of the events evaluated in this thesis. Misconceptions regarding the events were frequently encountered, which likely contribute to the existing dearth of hindsight.Using the compiled information, a back-analysis model was developed to simultaneously simulate the breach and the tailings runout for the 12 events using HEC-RAS. HEC-RAS is a publicly available software for water resources and geohazards modelling. The modelling used the parametric breach method and non-Newtonian flow capabilities within HEC-RAS. The non-Newtonian flow parameters were determined through a comprehensive calibration process. The quality of the terrain data and misconceptions were found to be the most influential on model fit to any observed impact.The investigations and 12 models form the most comprehensive, diverse, and detailed tailings dam breach database to date. The insights from the investigations and modelling are applicable to forward-analysis Tailings Dam Breach Analyses, and the database serves as a springboard for multiple avenues of future research.

View record

Shoreline erosion and related observations on the construction headpond at Site C, Fort St. John, BC (2023)

The Site C Clean Energy Project is a new dam and hydroelectric generating station that is currently being constructed by BC Hydro on the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia, near the city of Fort St. John. The Site C dam will be approximately 60 m high and will create a reservoir approximately 83 km long. A detailed geotechnical assessment was undertaken in 2012 to generate preliminary impact lines that delineate potential stability, erosion, and flood hazard areas around the future reservoir. A construction headpond currently formed by river diversion provides site-specific data to potentially improve upon initial shoreline erosion predictions. Since the impoundment of the construction headpond in September 2020, a variety of data has been collected that contributes to observations of shoreline erosion. Collected data includes headpond elevation data, wind speed and direction data, multiple aerial lidar datasets, wave characteristic data at two sites on the construction headpond, and grain size curves of soil samples take at the headpond shoreline. This data was analyzed using two quantitative methods: the digital shoreline analysis system (DSAS), and change detection analysis. The key takeaways from the DSAS tool measurements and the change detection analysis are:1. All sites show the most material volume change in the first year of headpond impoundment, compared to the subsequent year and a half. 2. Most sites developed a notch at approximately the 416 m elevation, which corresponds with the elevation where the headpond spent the most time. The observations and analysis during the headpond impoundment led to lessons learned around monitoring, modelling, and communication. The research objectives of collecting shoreline erosion data and observations, analyzing the data with new tools and discussing the lessons learned from the headpond stage were met.The construction headpond provided a unique situation to be observed for approximately 2.5 years, but more research can be completed on the subsequent reservoir stage, as well as future reservoirs, to improve shoreline erosion prediction and monitoring methods.

View record

Development of a wet muck database and drawpoint spill hazard susceptibility tool for an operating cave mine (2022)

Wet muck (also known as mud rush) can be described as the sudden flow of fragmented rock into a drawpoint or other underground mine opening, exposing the mine to safety and operational risks. This hazard is analogous to an underground debris flow and is most commonly encountered in cave mines. Numerous fatalities, infrastructure damage, loss of reserves, and operational delays, have been reported in various caving operations. To better understand and manage this hazard, this thesis uses data and experiences from the PT Freeport Indonesia, Deep Ore Zone (DOZ) block cave mine in Indonesia where the ground conditions and operational factors that both increase the susceptibility of a drawpoint and act to trigger a wet muck event. Spatio-temporal relationships are drawn from this data, recognizing that the probability of wet muck events tends to increase as a cave matures, with increasing draw column heights contributing to increase secondary fragmentation and the generation of fines. Other contributing factors included in the analysis are extraction rate, uniformity of draw, Height of Draw (HoD), and drawpoint condition.Univariate and multivariate logistic regression models are developed, with the goal of improving prediction and mitigation of these events to improve safety and productivity in caving operations. Although the consequences of wet muck spill events are high, they are still relatively rare, resulting in an imbalanced dataset. Cost-sensitive learning is incorporated into the logistic regression models to address this technical challenge. These methods are used in this thesis to develop a spreadsheet-based wet muck susceptibility tool, which includes implementation guidelines and Python scripts. The concepts, methodologies and tools developed from this research are not restricted to the DOZ but can also be implemented in other caving operations that are susceptible to wet muck spills.

View record

Spatial impact trends on debris flow fans in southwestern British Columbia (2020)

Forecasting the spatial impact of debris flows is challenging due to complex runout behaviour, such as variable mobility and channel avulsions. Practitioners often base the probability of runout exceedance on a fan, or define avulsion scenarios, on judgement. To support decision making, spatial impact trends were studied at thirty active debris flow fans in southwestern British Columbia (SWBC), Canada. 176 debris flow impact areas covering an average observation period of 74 years were mapped using orthorectified historical airphotos, satellite imagery, topographic basemaps, lidar, and field observations. A graphical plotting method was developed that converts geospatial mapping to spatial impact heatmaps normalized by the fan boundary, allowing for comparison of runout trends across fans in the dataset. Probability of spatial impact was analyzed in two components: runout down-fan (i.e., how far debris flows tend to travel past the apex toward the fan toe) and runout cross-fan (i.e., how far debris flows tend to deviate from the previous flow path). For fans in SWBC, there is a characteristic decay in spatial impact probability from the fan apex and the previous flow path, represented by a normal and log-normal distribution for normalized runout in the down-fan and cross-fan components, respectively. Differences in spatial impact trends can be explained, in part, by event volume, Melton ratio, fan truncation, and fan activity, however not by fan morphometrics, such as the slope or the point at which channelization is lost. A tool was created that transposes the empirical runout distributions onto a fan to assist in risk-based decision making. Future work may involve fitting functions to the spatial impact data for a more robust and adaptable forecasting tool.

View record

News Releases

This list shows a selection of news releases by UBC Media Relations over the last 5 years.

Current Students & Alumni

This is a small sample of students and/or alumni that have been supervised by this researcher. It is not meant as a comprehensive list.

If this is your researcher profile you can log in to the Faculty & Staff portal to update your details and provide recruitment preferences.


Planning to do a research degree? Use our expert search to find a potential supervisor!