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Evaluating the factors responsible for post-fire water quality response in forests of the western USA

Author(s): Ashley J. Rust, Samuel Saxe, John McCray, Charles C. Rhoades, Terri S. Hogue
Year Published: 2019

Wildfires commonly increase nutrient, carbon, sediment and metal inputs to streams, yet the factors responsible for the type, magnitude and duration of water quality effects are poorly understood. Prior work by the current authors found increased nitrogen, phosphorus and cation exports were common the first 5 post-fire years from a synthesis of 159 wildfires across the western United States. In the current study, an analysis is undertaken to determine factors that best explain post-fire streamwater responses observed in those watersheds. Increased post-fire total nitrogen and phosphorus loading were proportional to the catchment extent of moderate and high burn severity. While post-fire dissolved metal concentrations were correlated with pre-fire soil organic matter. Total metal concentration increased where post-fire Normalised Difference Vegetation Index, a remote sensing indicator of live green vegetation, was low. When pre-fire soil field capacity exceeded 17%, there was a 750% median increase in total metals export to streams. Overall, the current analysis identified burn severity, post-fire vegetation cover and several soil properties as the key variables explaining extended post-fire water quality response across a broad range of conditions found in the western US.

Citation: Rust, Ashley J.; Saxe, Samuel; McCray, John; Rhoades, Charles C.; Hogue, Terri S. 2019. Evaluating the factors responsible for post-fire water quality response in forests of the western USA. International Journal of Wildland Fire. doi: 10.1071/WF18191.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Water
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 20197
Record updated: Oct 21, 2019