Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Post-wildfire hydrologic recovery in Mediterranean climates: A systematic review and case study to identify current knowledge and opportunities

August 2, 2021

Post-fire hydrologic research typically focuses on the first few years after a wildfire, leading to substantial uncertainty regarding the longevity of impacts. The time needed for hydrologic function to return to pre-fire conditions is critical information for post-fire land and water management decisions. This is particularly true in Mediterranean climates, where water is scarce and in high demand, and the severity and area burned by wildfires are increasing. In part, uncertainty about hydrologic recovery is due to lack of a consistent definition or interpretation of what constitutes “recovery.” Here, we systematically reviewed empirical studies from Mediterranean climates with at least three years of post-fire hydrologic data with the objectives of (a) assessing the recovery period, (b) identifying a definition of post-fire hydrologic recovery, (c) demonstrating a simple analytical approach to aid in assessment of recovery, and (d) outlining research needs and opportunities to better quantify post-fire recovery. We assessed the hydrologic effects reported in 38 sites that were monitored for 3–20 years. Eighteen sites were considered recovered within seven years; however, the recovery time was inconsistent across sites and was not related to location, response variable, or study design. The likelihood of recovery within the study period also decreased with increasing proportion of the watershed area burned. Importantly, we have also proposed a standardized definition and an approach to quantifying hydrologic recovery that may facilitate cross-study comparisons and a deeper understanding of recovery. Specifically, we propose hydrologic recovery has occurred when a specific post-fire hydrologic function or condition of interest returns to the 95% confidence interval of the pre-fire condition. In support of this definition, we have demonstrated applying this simple approach to assess recovery and presented future research topics to improve our understanding of long-term post-fire catchment responses. In addition to the need for more studies that quantify hydrologic responses farther into the post-fire period, understanding post-fire changes in soil structural and hydraulic properties through time will improve our mechanistic understanding of post-fire hydrologic responses and recovery.

Publication Year 2021
Title Post-wildfire hydrologic recovery in Mediterranean climates: A systematic review and case study to identify current knowledge and opportunities
DOI 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2021.126772
Authors Joseph W. Wagenbrenner, Brian A. Ebel, Kevin D. Bladon, Alicia M. Kinoshita
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Hydrology
Index ID 70223255
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization WMA - Earth System Processes Division