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Phosphorus and nitrogen dynamics in streams during a wildfire

Author(s): Craig N. Spencer, F. Richard Hauer
Year Published: 1991

Various studies report changes in phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations in surface waters after wildfires; however, we have found no reports which include nutrient data collected during actual wildfire activity. We had an opportunity to collect water chemistry data from several streams as a large (15,500 ha) intense firestorm passed through their watersheds. Phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations increased from 5 to 60 fold over background levels within the first two days of the fire with maximum recorded concentrations for dissolved nutrients reaching as high as 135 ug/L soluble reactive phosphorus, 261 ug/L ammonium, and 61 ug/L and 349 ug/L respectively. Nutrient concentrations declined to background levels typically <5-10 ug/L within several days to several weeks. Experimental evidence suggests that the primary source of phosphorus was from leaching of ash deposited directly into the streams during the firestorm while the primary source of nitrogen appeared to be from diffusion of smoke gases into the stream waters.

Citation: Spencer, C. N., and F. R. Hauer. 1991. Phosphorus and nitrogen dynamics in streams during a wildfire. Journal of the North American Benthological Society, v. 10, no. 1, p. 24-30.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Water
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 18662
FRAMES RCS number: 26740
TTRS (Tall Timbers Research Station) Number: 479
Record updated: Dec 3, 2018