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Debris-flow generation from recently burned watersheds

Author(s): Susan H. Cannon
Year Published: 1999

Evaluation of the erosional response of 95 recently burned drainage basins in Colorado, New Mexico and southern California to storm rainfall provides information on the conditions that result in fire-related debris flows. Debris flows were produced from only 37 of 95 ( approximately 40 percent) basins examined; the remaining basins produced either sediment-laden streamflow or no discernable response. Debris flows were thus not the prevalent response of the burned basins. The debris flows that did occur were most frequently the initial response to significant rainfall events. Although some hillslopes continued to erode and supply material to channels in response to subsequent rainfall events, debris flows were produced from only one burned basin following the initial erosive event. Within individual basin, debris flows initiated through both runoff and infiltration-triggered processes. The fact that not all burned basins produced debris flows suggests that specific geologic and geomorphic conditions may control the generation of fire-related debris flows. The factors that best distinguish between debris-flow producing drainages and those that produced sediment-laden streamflow are drainage-basin morphology and lithology, and the presence or absence of water-repellent soils. Basins underlain by sedimentary rocks were most likely to produce debris flows that contain large material, and sand- and gravel-dominated flows were generated primarily from terrain underlain by decomposed granite. Basin-area and relief thresholds define the morphologic conditions under which both types of debris flows occur. Debris flows containing large material are more likely to be produced from basins without water-repellent soils than from basins with water repellency. The occurrence of sand-and gravel-dominated debris flows depends on the presence of water-repellent soils.

Citation: Cannon SH. 1999. Debris-flow generation from recently burned watersheds. Environmental and Engineering Geoscience 7 (4): 321-341. DOI: · 10.2113/gseegeosci.7.4.321
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Soils
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 18516
Record updated: Nov 21, 2018