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Hydrological impacts of large fires and future climate: modeling approach supported by satellite data

Author(s): Claudia Carvalho-Santos, Bruno Marcos, João Pedro Nunes, Adrián Regos, Elisa Palazzi, Silvia Terzago, Antonio T. Monteiro, João P. Honrado
Year Published: 2019

Fires have significant impacts on soil erosion and water supply that may be exacerbated by future climate. The aims of this study were: To simulate the effects of a large fire event in the SWAT (Soil and Water Assessment Tool) hydrological model previously calibrated to a medium-sized watershed in Portugal; and to predict the hydrological impacts of large fires and future climate on water supply and soil erosion. For this, post-fire recovery was parametrized in SWAT based on satellite information, namely, the fraction of vegetation cover (FVC) calculated from the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). The impact of future climate was based on four regional climate models under the stabilization (RCP 4.5) and high emission (RCP 8.5) scenarios, focusing on mid-century projections (2020-2049) compared to a historical period (1970-1999). Future large fire events (>3000 ha) were predicted from a multiple linear regression model, which uses the daily severity rating (DSR) fire weather index, precipitation anomaly, and burnt area in the previous three years; and subsequently simulated in SWAT under each climate model/scenario. Results suggest that time series of satellite indices are useful to inform SWAT about vegetation growth and post-fire recovery processes. Different land cover types require different time periods for returning to the pre-fire fraction of vegetation cover, ranging from 3 years for pines, eucalypts, and shrubs, to 6 years for sparsely vegetated low scrub. Future climate conditions are expected to include an increase in temperatures and a decrease in precipitation with marked uneven seasonal distribution, and this will likely trigger the growth of burnt area and an increased frequency of large fires, even considering differences across climate models. The future seasonal pattern of precipitation will have a strong influence on river discharge, with less water in the river during spring, summer, and autumn, but more discharge in winter, the latter being exacerbated under the large fire scenario. Overall, the decrease in water supply is more influenced by climate change, whereas soil erosion increase is more dependent on fire, although with a slight increase under climate change. These results emphasize the need for adaptation measures that target the combined hydrological consequences of future climate, fires, and post-fire vegetation dynamics.

Citation: Carvalho-Santos, Claudia; Marcos, Bruno; Nunes, João Pedro; Regos, Adrián; Palazzi, Elisa; Terzago, Silvia; Monteiro, António T.; Honrado, João Pradinho. 2019. Hydrological impacts of large fires and future climate: modeling approach supported by satellite data. Remote Sensing 11(23):2832. https://doi.org/10.3390/rs11232832
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: 22426
FRAMES RCS number: 60448
Record updated: Jan 12, 2021