Brian McArdell

Wetzikon, Switzerland
Geologist, Geomorphologist

Brian investigates debris flows and related hazards such as landslides and torrential flooding at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, in Birmensdorf. His research mainly focuses on full-scale measurement of debris-flow properties at full-scale in the field, mainly at the Illgraben field site in Canton Valais. One significant application of the research is to test and help develop computer models used by practitioners to make hazard maps and design mitigation measures to protect people and infrastructure.


Brian studied Geology at the University of Minnesota (graduated in 1989), and then completed his Ph.D. on sediment movement in mountain rivers at the Johns Hopkins University in 1997. In 1996, he moved to Switzerland and joined ETH Zürich as a post-doc to work on engineering problems on mountain rivers. In 2001 he moved to the WSL where he built-up the research program on debris flows, and also contributed to the development of the RAMMS debris-flow model used by practitioners all over the world. After more than a decade as a group leader for mass movement research, he gave-up the administrative work and decided to focus on research. Innovations from Brian and his students include the direct measurement of the forces (such as the vertical force, or weight) of debris flows and measuring how much they change the torrent channel bed by erosion (deepening) or deposition of sediment.