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Initial hydrologic and geomorphic response following a wildfire in the Colorado Front Range

Author(s): John A. Moody, Deborah A. Martin
Year Published: 2001

A wildfire in May 1996 burned 4690 hectares in two watersheds forested by ponderosa pine and Douglas fir in a steep, mountainous landscape with a summer, convective thunderstorm precipitation regime. The wildfire lowered the erosion threshold in the watersheds, and consequently amplified the subsequent erosional response to shorter time interval episodic rainfall and created both erosional and depositional features in a complex pattern throughout the watersheds. The initial response during the first four years was an increase in runoff and erosion rates followed by decreases toward pre‐fire rates. The maximum unit‐area peak discharge was 24 m3 s−1 km−2 for a rainstorm in 1996 with a rain intensity of 90 mm h−1. Recovery to pre‐fire conditions seems to have occurred by 2000 because for a maximum 30‐min rainfall intensity of 50 mm h−1, the unit‐area peak discharge in 1997 was 6.6 m3 s−1 km−2, while in 2000 a similar intensity produced only 0.11 m3 s−1 km−2. Rill erosion accounted for 6 per cent, interrill erosion for 14 per cent, and drainage erosion for 80 per cent of the initial erosion in 1996. This represents about a 200‐fold increase in erosion rates on hillslopes which had a recovery or relaxation time of about three years. About 67 per cent of the initially eroded sediment is still stored in the watersheds after four years with an estimated residence time greater than 300 years. This residence time is much greater than the fire recurrence interval so erosional and depositional features may become legacies from the wildfire and may affect landscape evolution by acting as a new set of initial conditions for subsequent wildfire and flood sequences.

Citation: Moody, John A.; Martin, Deborah A. 2001. Initial hydrologic and geomorphic response following a wildfire in the Colorado Front Range. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 26(10):1049-1070. https://doi.org/10.1002/esp.253
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Soils, Water, Post-fire Management, Post-fire Rehabilitation, Erosion Control
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 18612
FRAMES RCS number: 26296
TTRS (Tall Timbers Research Station) Number: 18522
Record updated: Nov 27, 2018