Scott McCoy

Associate Professor, Peter Vardy Endowed Professor in Engineering Geology
Scott Mccoy


Professional Experience

Postdoctoral Research Fellow funded by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and located at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and ETH Zurich (2012 – 2013).

About the Peter Vardy Endowed Professorship in Engineering Geology

The Peter Vardy Endowed Professorship in Engineering Geology was created to support the careers of faculty members who "exhibit creativity, forward thinking and accomplishments that Peter Vardy exemplified in the field of geological engineering." Established: 2017. (Mackay School)

Research interests

My research draws from both Earth science and engineering to formulate and test mechanistic, predictive models that quantitatively describe the behavior of surface processes such as floods, landslides, and debris flows. On event or decadal times scales, many surface processes can devastate communities or pose geologic hazards. On geologic time scales, surface processes transport mass and energy across the Earth’s surface to shape the landscapes we live in. My research interests cut across these timescales to find answers to basic questions pertaining to hazardous surface processes: Why do they occur? When will they occur? How large will they be? What areas or ecosystems are susceptible? How do they shape landscapes? How might their magnitude and frequency change with changing climate, land use, or tectonic forcing? To make progress on such questions I combine experimental, theoretical, computational, and field methods to exploit the fact that surface processes obey the basic laws of physics and chemistry and can be observed in some fashion today.

Most projects my group works on generally include some permutation of the following activities: field mapping and surveying, development and use of novel environmental sensor networks; constraining dates and rates with various geochemical systems; digital elevation data analysis at scales from 90 m to 1 cm; continuum mechanics; fluid mechanics; granular mechanics; scientific programing; finite element and finite volume techniques for continuum computation; discrete element/molecular dynamics modeling for discrete computation; computational landscape evolution models to explore mechanistically how drainage networks evolve; and bench-top lab experimentation.


  • Ph.D., University of Colorado, Boulder, Geological Sciences, 2012
  • B.S., cum laude, University of Washington, Seattle, Geology, 2005
  • B.A., cum laude, University of Washington, Seattle, Business Administration, 2005

Selected publications

  • Willett, S.D., S. W. McCoy, J. T. Perron, L. Goren, and C. Chen (2014), Dynamic Reorganization of River Basins, Science, 343.
  • Kean, J. W., S. W. McCoy, G. E. Tucker, D. M. Staley, and J. A. Coe (2013), Runoff-generated debris flows: Observations and modeling of surge initiation, magnitude, and frequency, Journal of Geophysical Research, 118.
  • McCoy, S. W., G. E. Tucker, J. W. Kean, and J. A. Coe (2013), Field measurement of basal forces generated by erosive debris flows, Journal of Geophysical Research, 118.
  • McCoy, S. W., J. W. Kean, J. A. Coe, G. E. Tucker, D. M. Staley, and T. A. Wasklewicz (2012) In situ measurements of sediment entrainment from the headwaters of a steep catchment, Journal of Geophysical Research, 117, F03016.
  • McCoy, S. W., J. A. Coe, J. W. Kean, G. E. Tucker, D. M. Staley, and T. A. Wasklewicz (2011), Observations of debris flows at Chalk Cliffs, Colorado, USA: Part 1, In situ measurements of flow dynamics, tracer particle movement and video imagery from the summer of 2009, Italian Journal of Engineering Geology and Environment, 1(11), 65–75.
  • Tucker, G. E., S. W. McCoy, A. C. Whittaker, G. P. Roberts, S. T. Lancaster, and R. Phillips (2011), Geomorphic significance of post-glacial bedrock scarps on normal-fault footwalls, Journal of Geophysical Research, 116, F01022.
  • McCoy, S. W., J. W. Kean, J. A. Coe, D. M. Staley, T. A. Wasklewicz, and G. E. Tucker (2010), Evolution of a natural debris flow: In situ measurements of flow dynamics, video imagery, and terrestrial laser scanning, Geology, 38(8), 735.