Fes de Scally

Associate Professor Emeritus

Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences
Email: fes.descally@ubc.ca

Research Summary

Historical and modern tropical cyclone risks in the Cook Islands, South Pacific Ocean; differentiation of debris flow, streamflow and snow avalanche fans in mountain environments and implications for risk management in the Southern Alps, New Zealand.

Courses & Teaching

Physical geography; natural hazards management; mountain environments.


I was born in Helsinki, Finland and spent my childhood in that northern city—although my fondest memories are of summers spent among the farms and lakeside cottages of the Finnish countryside. I have my parents to thank for the decision to immigrate to Vancouver where, surrounded by the spectacular Coast and Cascade Mountains, I was able to develop my recreational interests in the mountains. After spending some years teaching Nordic skiing and mountaineering, building backcountry trails, working as a geologist’s assistant, and volunteering with a mountain Search and Rescue team, I began to develop more academic interests in mountain environments by completing a Masters degree. This involved the development of a time-lapse photography system for monitoring snow avalanche activity and snowpack behaviour in the Front Ranges of the Alberta Rockies, during which time I became acquainted with the joys of snow science at -35°C. From there I was lured into a PhD program with an invitation to join the Snow and Ice Hydrology Project (SIHP) in the Punjab Himalaya and Karakoram Mountains of northern Pakistan. This was a major collaborative project between Wilfrid Laurier University and the Water and Power Development Authority of Pakistan, and funded by the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa, with the aim of increasing understanding of the nival and glacial sources of the Indus River system. My part of the project involved researching the effect of widespread snow avalanching on seasonal snowmelt, as well as understanding the avalanche hazard faced by inhabitants and visitors in the high valleys. My five-year long involvement in the SIHP and three summers in the mountains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan have had a profound influence on my understanding of high-mountain geosystems, mountain inhabitants of the developing world, and the manner in which they deal with mountain hazard risks.

Following the completion of my PhD I landed a teaching job at Okanagan College in Kelowna, at the start of 17 years of institutional evolution which culminated in the creation of UBC’s Okanagan campus in 2005. My research over the past 26 years has primarily involved trying to understand the effects of avalanche activity on spring snowmelt, the dynamics of high-mountain fans affected by avalanches, debris flows and flash floods, and the role that avalanches play in transporting sediment into high-elevation debris flow channels. I have also had a longstanding interest in the management of mountain hazards as a component of planning for sustainable development of high-mountain environments. My various research projects have involved extensive fieldwork in the Punjab Himalaya of Pakistan, the Rockies and Cascade Mountains of western Canada and the Southern Alps of New Zealand, and studies of shorter duration in the Swiss Alps and Snowy Mountains of Australia.

Since 2001 I have also been researching tropical cyclone hazards in the Cook Islands, South Pacific Ocean—down at sea level—which goes to show that disciplinary breadth can in this instance be measured as a range of elevation! This research has produced the first-ever historical record of tropical cyclones and their human impacts in this small country, with the aim of improving our understanding of modern cyclone risk. The work is a natural extension of my interests in disaster risk reduction, although it has proved to be a significant diversion from my high-mountain research. The project was born following the destruction wrought by Tropical Cyclone Martin in 1997, the deadliest cyclone to strike the Cook Islands in 150 years, and is being carried out in conjunction with the Cook Islands Meteorological Service.


MSc, University of Alberta
PhD, University of Waterloo

Research Interests & Projects

Storm surge risk and vulnerability: Cook Islands, South Pacific Ocean.

Sediment loading by snow avalanches in high–elevation debris–flow channels: Rocky Mountains, Alberta.

Differentiation of snow avalanche, debris-flow, and fluvial processes on mountain fans: Southern Alps, New Zealand and Canadian– Cordillera.

Wildland-urban-interface fire risk: Kelowna, BC.

Selected Publications & Presentations

Year Publication
2018 Woodhurst, G.D. and de Scally, F.A. 2018: Sediment loading of alpine debris-flow channels by snow avalanches, Canadian Rocky Mountains. Geografiska Annaler100A(1): 4-26 doi: 10.1080/04353676.2017.1366830
2017 de Scally, D.G., de Scally, F.A. and Senese, D.M. 2017: Reduction of wildland-urban interface fire risk in Kelowna, Canada. Western Geography 23 (in press)
2016 Cashion, F. and de Scally, F.A. 2016: Precipitation gradients at the crest of a British Columbia coastal mountain range. Western Geography 22: 83-107
2014 de Scally, F.A., 2014: Evaluation of storm surge risk: a case study from Rarotonga, Cook Islands. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 7: 9-27. 10.1016/j.ijdrr.2013.12.002
2010 de Scally, F.A., Owens, I. and Louis, J., 2010: Controls on fan depositional processes in the schist ranges of the Southern Alps, New Zealand, and implications for debris-flow hazard assessment. Geomorphology 122: 99-116
2008 de Scally, F. 2008: Historical tropical cyclone activity and impacts in the Cook Islands. Pacific Science 62(4): 443-460
2006 de Scally, F., Wood, V., Maguire, L., Fournier-Beck, M.-A. and Silcocks, D. 2006: A History of Tropical Cyclones and Their Impacts in the Cook Islands. Nikao, Rarotonga: Cook Islands Meteorological Service, 377 p.
2005 de Scally, F. and Owens, I. 2005: Depositional processes and particle characteristics on fans in the Southern Alps, New Zealand. Geomorphology 69: 46-56
2005 Rowbotham, D., de Scally, F. and Louis, J. 2005: The identification of debris torrent basins using morphometric measures derived within a GIS. Geografiska Annaler 87A(4): 527-537
2004 de Scally, F. and Owens, I. 2004: Morphometric controls and geomorphic responses on fans in the Southern Alps, New Zealand. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 29(3): 311-322
2004 de Scally, F., Mattson, E. and Rowbotham, D. 2004: The August 1999 debris flow at Five Mile Creek, Banff National Park, Alberta. Western Geography 13/14: 1-18
2001 de Scally, F., Slaymaker, O. and Owens, I. 2001: Morphometric controls and basin response in the Cascade Mountains. Geografiska Annaler 83A(3): 117-130
1998 de Scally, F. and Turchak, C. 1998: Some environmental aspects and impacts of rapid population growth in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada. In Themes and Issues of Canadian Geography II, C. Stadel (ed.). Salzburger Geographische Arbeiten32: 43-63
1997 de Scally, F. 1997: Deriving lapse rates of slope air temperature for modeling meltwater runoff in sub-tropical mountains: an example from the Punjab Himalaya, Pakistan. Mountain Research and Development 17(4): 353-362
1996 de Scally, F. 1996: Avalanche snow melting and summer streamflow differences between high-elevation basins, Cascade Mountains, British Columbia, Canada. Arctic and Alpine Research 28(1): 25-34
1994 de Scally, F. 1994: Relative importance of snow accumulation and monsoon rainfall data for estimating annual runoff, Jhelum basin, Pakistan. Hydrological Sciences Journal 39: 199-216
1994 de Scally, F. and Gardner, J. 1994: Characteristics and mitigation of the snow avalanche hazard in Kaghan Valley, Pakistan Himalaya. Natural Hazards 9: 197-213
1993 Gardner, J. and de Scally, F. 1993: Geomorphology applied to hazard site identification in mountain areas: examples from Kaghan Valley, Pakistan. In Applied Geomorphology in the Tropics, P.R. Sharma (ed.). Varanasi: Rishi Publishers, pp. 60-72
1992 de Scally, F. 1992: Influence of avalanche snow transport on snowmelt runoff. Journal of Hydrology 137: 73-97
1992 Gardner, J., Rowbotham, D. and de Scally, F. 1992: Identification and monitoring of multiple geomorphic hazards in high mountain areas. In Dynamics of Mountain Geosystems, R.B. Singh (ed.). New Delhi: Ashish Publishers, pp. 247-270
1990 de Scally, F. and Gardner, J. 1990: Ablation of avalanched and undisturbed snow, Himalaya Mountains, Pakistan. Water Resources Research 26(11): 2757-2767
1990 Bell, I., Gardner, J. and de Scally, F. 1990: An estimate of snow avalanche debris transport, Kaghan Valley, Himalaya, Pakistan. Arctic and Alpine Research 22(3): 317-321
1989 de Scally, F. and Gardner, J. 1989: Evaluation of avalanche-mass determination approaches: an example from the Himalaya, Pakistan. Journal of Glaciology 35(120): 248-252
1987 de Scally, F., Gardner, J. and McPherson, H. 1987: Avalanche occurrence as revealed by time-lapse photography, Kananaskis Country, Alberta. National Research Council Canada, Technical Memorandum 140: 33-58

Selected Grants & Awards


Recipient, Canadian Association of Geographers Award for Excellence in Teaching Geography (2005)

Recipient, Lorne H. Russwurm Award for Outstanding Teaching Assistant, University of Waterloo (1989)

Professional Services/Affiliations/Committees

Visiting Erskine Fellow, University of Canterbury (2005)


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