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Assessment of post-wildfire geomorphic change in the North Fork Eagle Creek stream channel, New Mexico, 2017–21

November 14, 2023

The 2012 Little Bear Fire caused substantial vegetation loss in the Eagle Creek Basin of south-central New Mexico. This loss was expected to alter the localized hydrologic response to precipitation by creating conditions that amplify surface runoff, which might alter the geomorphology of North Fork Eagle Creek, a major tributary to Eagle Creek. To monitor short-term geomorphic change, annual geomorphic surveys of North Fork Eagle Creek were conducted from 2017 to 2021. The surveys measured 14 cross sections, stream gradients, woody debris accumulations, and pools found within the study reach. During the 2017–21 study period, the study reach experienced multiple high-flow events that resulted from both monsoonal rainfall and snowmelt runoff. Comparisons of the cross-section and channel profile data for the repeat geomorphic surveys indicate localized erosion and deposition occurred as a result of the high-flow events but overall study reach geomorphology shower little change through the study period. Additionally, the number of woody debris accumulations and pools increased during the study period. Evidence from the 5-year geomorphic survey indicates that the North Fork Eagle Creek’s geomorphology did not change substantially during the study period. Wildfire severity and frequency within mountainous regions of the Southwest are projected to increase and their effect on fluvial systems remains uncertain; however, continued geomorphic studies can provide informative insight on watershed post-wildfire resiliency and recovery by establishing baselines that can be used in the event of a future severe wildfire within the Eagle Creek Basin.

Publication Year 2023
Title Assessment of post-wildfire geomorphic change in the North Fork Eagle Creek stream channel, New Mexico, 2017–21
DOI 10.3133/sir20235116
Authors Justin R. Nichols, Shaleene B. Chavarria, Alexander P. Graziano
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2023-5116
Index ID sir20235116
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New Mexico Water Science Center