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How long do runoff-generated debris-flow hazards persist after wildfire?

October 3, 2023

Runoff-generated debris flows are a potentially destructive and deadly response to wildfire until sufficient vegetation and soil-hydraulic recovery have reduced susceptibility to the hazard. Elevated debris-flow susceptibility may persist for several years, but the controls on the timespan of the susceptible period are poorly understood. To evaluate the connection between vegetation recovery and debris-flow occurrence, we calculated recovery for 25 fires in the western United States using satellite-derived leaf area index (LAI) and compared recovery estimates to the timing of 536 debris flows from the same fires. We found that the majority (>98%) of flows occurred when LAI was less than 2/3 of typical prefire values. Our results show that total vegetation recovery is not necessary to inhibit runoff-generated flows in a wide variety of regions in the western United States. Satellite-derived vegetation data show promise for estimating the timespan of debris-flow susceptibility.

Publication Year 2023
Title How long do runoff-generated debris-flow hazards persist after wildfire?
DOI 10.1029/2023GL105101
Authors Andrew Paul Graber, Matthew A. Thomas, Jason W. Kean
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geophysical Research Letters
Index ID 70249375
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geologic Hazards Science Center - Landslides / Earthquake Geology