Changes in Watershed Hydrologic Response Time with Post-wildfire Changes in Vegetation and Surface Fuels Along a Severely-burned, High-desert Canyon, Bandelier National Monument, NM

Science Center Objects

Flash flooding can be a destructive and life-threatening response of watersheds to intense rainfall events, particularly in sparsely­ vegetated, or burned watersheds. Studies have been conducted to estimate the magnitude of hydrologic responses of burned watersheds to rainfall events, however the time that it takes a flood to travel through a burned watershed and reach a critical or populated area downstream,and how this travel time is affected by watershed recovery following a fire, is not well constrained.
Three years of stream flow and precipitation data from early warning system rain and stream gages in Frijoles Canyon following the 2011 Las Conchas fire, as well as vegetation and surface fuel data collected since the fire, provide the opportunity to analyze potential trends in post-wildfire watershed recovery with time.

 

Approach

USGS in cooperation with NPS will:

  • Select flood events from stream gage records
  • Download precipitation and gage height data for selected floods
  • Analyze changes in flood response time since fire
  • Analyze and summarize vegetation and surface fuel data to detect change since fire
  • Explore potential linkages between documented changes in hydrologic response time and vegetation and surface fuel loading over time since the fire

 

Objective

  • To determine ecological and hydrologic recovery patterns following high-severity (tree killing) fire in the conifer-forested Frijoles Canyon watershed, NM
  • To document patterns of vegetation and surface fuel recovery using vegetation and surface fuel data
  • To analyze flood lag and travel times for trends indicative of watershed recovery and explore potential linages between these trends and the changes in vegetation and surface fuel loading over time since the fire