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The timing and magnitude of changes to Hortonian overland flow at the watershed scale during the post-fire recovery process

May 8, 2021

Extreme hydrologic responses following wildfires can lead to floods and debris flows with costly economic and societal impacts. Process-based hydrologic and geomorphic models used to predict the downstream impacts of wildfire must account for temporal changes in hydrologic parameters related to the generation and subsequent routing of infiltration-excess overland flow across the landscape. However, we lack quantitative relationships showing how parameters change with time-since-burning, particularly at the watershed scale. To assess variations in best-fit hydrologic parameters with time, we used the KINEROS2 hydrological model to explore temporal changes in hillslope saturated hydraulic conductivity (Ksh) and channel hydraulic roughness (nc) following a wildfire in the upper Arroyo Seco watershed (41.5 km2), which burned during the 2009 Station fire in the San Gabriel Mountains, California, USA. This study explored runoff-producing storms between 2008 and 2014 to infer watershed hydraulic properties by calibrating the model to observations at the watershed outlet. Modelling indicates Ksh is lowest in the first year following the fire and then increases at an average rate of approximately 4.2 mm/h/year during the first 5 years of recovery. The estimated values for Ksh in the first year following the fire are similar to those obtained in previous studies on smaller watersheds (<1.5 km2) following the Station fire, suggesting hydrologic changes detected here can be applied to lower-order watersheds. Hydraulic roughness, nc, was lowest in the first year following the fire, but increased by a factor of 2 after 1 year of recovery. Post-fire observations suggest changes in nc are due to changes in grain roughness and vegetation in channels. These results provide quantitative constraints on the magnitude of fire-induced hydrologic changes following severe wildfires in chaparral-dominated ecosystems as well as the timing of hydrologic recovery.

Publication Year 2021
Title The timing and magnitude of changes to Hortonian overland flow at the watershed scale during the post-fire recovery process
DOI 10.1002/hyp.14208
Authors Taojun Liu, Luke A. McGuire, Haiyan Wei, Francis K. Rengers, Hoshin Gupta, Lin Ji, David C. Goodrich
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Water Resources Research
Index ID 70222489
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geologic Hazards Science Center