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James (Jim) A. McKean

Jim McKean

Research Geomorphologist

322 East Front Street, Suite 401
Boise, ID 83702
Contact James (Jim) A. McKean

Current Research

Research Interests

  • Modeling effects of spatially varying root strength on the location, frequency and size of shallow landslides
  • Mechanistic controls on shallow landslide size and shape revealed by 3D stability analysis
  • Mechanistic analyses of the effects of climate change on aquatic physical habitat
  • Understanding the responses of hill slopes to channel base level changes
  • Quantitative descriptions and analyses of controls on spatial distribution of channel physical habitat
  • Development and testing of a new terrestrial-aquatic LIDAR to map and monitor stream habitat

Past Research

  • Response of hillslopes to channel baselevel changes
  • Effects of climate induced changes in winter flows on bed mobility and Chinook spawning success
  • Investigations with a new bathymetric LIDAR
  • Controls on the size, location, and frequency of debris flow landslides by spatial patterns of forest root strength
  • Effects of topographic boundary condition errors on multi-dimensional computational fluid dynamics models
  • Predictions of physical/biological process interactions in channels


Bellugi, D., D. G. Milledge, W. E. Dietrich, J. A. McKean, J. T. Perron, E. B. Sudderth, and B. Kazian. 2015. A spectral clustering search algorithm for predicting shallow landslide size and location. J. Geophys. Res. Earth Surf. 120, doi:10.1002/2014JF003137.

Benjankar, R., Tonina, D., McKean, J., 2014. One-dimensional and two-dimensional hydrodynamic modelling derived flow properties: impacts on aquatic habitat quality predictions. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, doi: 10.1002/esp.3637

Marzadri, A., Tonina, D., McKean, J., Tiedemann, M.G., Benjankar, R.M., 2014. Multi-scale streambed topographic and discharge effects on hyporheic at the stream network scale in confined streams. Journal of Hydrology, 519 Part B, pp. 1997-2011.

McKean, J., Tonina, D., Bohn, C., Wright, C.W., 2014. Effects of bathymetric lidar errors on a multi-dimensional hydraulic model of flow and bed shear stress in a small clear-water stream. Journal of Geophysical Research - Earth Surface, 119 (3), 644-664, doi:10.1002/2013JF002897.

Milledge, David G.; Bellugi, Dino; McKean, Jim A.; Densmore, Alexander L.; Dietrich, William E. 2014. A multidimensional stability model for predicting shallow landslide size and shape across landscapes. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface. 119. doi:10.1002/2014JF003135.

Why This Research is Important

Airborne bathymetric LIDARs could revolutionize the way the Forest Service and other agencies manage streams. The technology may allow us to move from local samples of channel habitat toward full inventory of physical conditions in channel networks. This will support new analyses/management of aquatic habitat and species at unprecedented spatial scales.

Debris flow research will allow spatially explicit modeling of changes in the hazard of shallow landsliding caused by variations in root strength from sources such as climate change, logging, root disease, or forest insect infestations. The 3D slope stability model also allows a prediction of landslide size.

The interactions of hillslopes and their bounding channels strongly control the hazard of large landslides and the rate and style of sediment introduced to streams by the landslides. This research should improve our understanding of slide behavior and environmental consequences.


  • University of California Berkeley, Ph.D., Geology, 1993
  • University of California Berkeley, M.S., Geotechnical Engineering, 1981
  • Colorado State University, M.S., Geology, 1977
  • Colorado State University, B.S., Geology, 1973
  • Professional Experience

    Project Geomorphologist, US Forest Service, Rocky Mtn. Res. Station, Air Water and Aquatic Environments Program
    2003 to present

    Professional Organizations

    • American Geophysical Union, Member ( 1985 to present )
    • Geological Society of America, Member ( 1985 to present )

    Featured Publications


    Bellugi, Dino; Milledge, David G.; Dietrich, William E.; McKean, James (Jim) A.; Perron, J. Taylor; Sudderth, Erik B.; Kazian, Brian, 2015. A spectral clustering search algorithm for predicting shallow landslide size and location
    Milledge, David G.; Bellugi, Dino; McKean, James (Jim) A.; Densmore, Alexander L.; Dietrich, William E., 2014. A multidimensional stability model for predicting shallow landslide size and shape across landscapes
    McKean, James (Jim) A.; Tonina, D.; Bohn, C.; Wright, C. W., 2014. Effects of bathymetric lidar errors on flow properties predicted with a multi-dimensional hydraulic model
    Marzadri, Alessandra; Tonina, Daniele; McKean, James (Jim) A.; Tiedemann, Matthew G.; Benjankar, Rohan M., 2014. Multi-scale streambed topographic and discharge effects on hyporheic at the stream network scale in confined streams
    Marzadri, Alessandra; Tonina, Daniele; McKean, James (Jim) A.; Tiedemann, Matt, 2012. Hyporheic exchange along a river below a dam
    Tonina, D.; McKean, James (Jim) A.; Tang, C.; Goodwin, P., 2011. New tools for aquatic habitat modeling
    Elliot, William J.; Hyde, Kevin; MacDonald, Lee; McKean, James (Jim) A., 2010. Tools for analysis
    McKean, James (Jim) A.; Isaak, Daniel J.; Wright, Wayne, 2009. Improving stream studies with a small-footprint green lidar
    Mackey, B. H.; Roering, J. J.; McKean, James (Jim) A., 2009. Long-term kinematics and sediment flux of an active earthflow, Eel River, California
    Mountjoy, Joshu J.; McKean, James (Jim) A.; Barnes, Philip M.; Pettinga, Jarg R., 2009. Terrestrial-style slow-moving earthflow kinematics in a submarine landslide complex
    Predictions of future climates include higher flows in mountain streams during mid-winter; a time when salmon eggs are incubating in streambed gravels. Unique stream bathymetry data and high resolution hydrodynamic models allow us to quantitatively assess the risk of bed scour and egg nest destruction in low gradient mountain streams during a variety of flows.