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Data supporting 'Linking fire-induced evapotranspiration shifts to streamflow magnitude and timing in the western United States'

June 12, 2023

The impact of wildfire on water availability is a critical issue in the western United States. Because actual evapotranspiration (ETa) constitutes the largest loss in the terrestrial water budget, it has been suggested that fire-induced ETa reduction is a primary driver of elevated post-fire discharge. Ten gaged watersheds with burns exceeding 5% of their total contributing drainage area were selected from California, Oregon, Montana, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado. Continuous daily stream gage data were compiled, and 30-meter ETa estimates were calculated with the Operational Simplified Surface Energy Balance (SSEBop) model. Fire-induced ETa shifts were quantified with statistical tests that compared pre and post-fire monthly ETa in burned and unburned pixels; the dampening effect of scale was also evaluated by repeating tests on all pixels from the entire basin. As streamflow data are point measurements that aggregate a large spatial area, additional statistical methods were required to isolate the effect of fire from climate on baseflow and runoff. Key findings include a) significant fire-induced ETa reductions were only distinguishable in basin-scale monthly datasets when at least 73% of the basin burned, b) the effect of wildfire disturbance on streamflow magnitude was seasonally variable, c) streamflow was modified in basins with as little as 6% burned drainage area; however, shifts only persisted beyond the fifth post-fire year where more than three-quarters of the basin was fire-impacted, and d) surplus water from ETa reduction was sufficient to account for boosted fire-induced streamflow. Where fire-induced streamflow increases were not significantly correlated with ETa anomaly, other fire-impacted landscape processes may have contributed to modified runoff generation and routing. Where fire reduced ETa but streamflow shifts were not detected, compensatory ETa pathways may have consumed the excess water before it reached the gage. Findings suggest that water providers with small source-water collection areas have higher relative risk for fire-induced hydromodification than providers with larger or more diversified supply portfolios. Results also illustrate the tendency of overarching climate signals to mask or artificially boost the apparent effect of landscape disturbance on streamflow at the basin outlet.

Publication Year 2023
Title Data supporting 'Linking fire-induced evapotranspiration shifts to streamflow magnitude and timing in the western United States'
DOI 10.5066/P9YWPIBM
Authors Natalie M Collar, Samuel W Saxe, Brian A Ebel, Kathryn S Boden, Ashley J Rust, Terri S Hogue
Product Type Data Release
Record Source USGS Digital Object Identifier Catalog
USGS Organization Integrated Modeling & Prediction Division