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Wildfire as a catalyst for hydrologic and geomorphic change

Author(s): Francis K. Rengers
Year Published: 2019
Description:

Wildfire has been a constant presence on the Earth since at least the Silurian period, and is a landscape-scale catalyst that results in a step-change perturbation for hydrologic systems, which ripples across burned terrain, shaping the geomorphic legacy of watersheds. Specifically, wildfire alters two key landscape properties: (1) overland flow, and (2) soil erodibility. Overland flow and soil erodibility have both been seen to increase after wildfires, resulting in order-of-magnitude increases in erosion rates during rainstorms with relatively frequent recurrence intervals. On short timescales, wildfire increases erosion and leads to natural hazards that are costly and threatening to society. Over longer timescales, wildfire-induced erosion can account for the majority of total denudation in certain settings with long-term implications for landscape evolution. There is a special focus on debris flows in this document because they are the most destructive geomorphic processes observed to follow wildfires after high severity burns. To date, research on post-wildfire debris flows has focused on: the provenance of sediment moved in debris flows, the hydrologic and soil properties required to produce debris flows, and debris flow initiation mechanisms. Herein we highlight the relevant research articles showing the current state of progress in debris flow research as well as pointing to the fundamental research on post-wildfire hydrology and erosion necessary for understanding how water and sediment behave after wildfires.

Citation: Rengers FK. 2019. Wildfire as a catalyst for hydrologic and geomorphic change. Environmental Science DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0112.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Soils, Water, Post-fire Management, Post-fire Rehabilitation, Erosion Control, Recovery after fire, Restoration
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 21241
Record updated: May 12, 2020