International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Relations between soil hydraulic properties and burn severity

John A. Moody A G , Brian A. Ebel B , Petter Nyman C , Deborah A. Martin A , Cathelijne Stoof D E and Randy McKinley F
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A United States Geological Survey, 3215 Marine Street, Suite E-127, Boulder, CO 80303, USA.

B Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO 80401, USA.

C Department of Forest and Ecosystem Science, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic. 3052, Australia.

D Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA.

E Soil Geography and Landscape Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands.

F US Geological Survey, Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center, Sioux Falls, SD 57030, USA.

G Corresponding author. Email: jamoody@usgs.gov

International Journal of Wildland Fire 25(3) 279-293 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF14062
Submitted: 19 April 2014  Accepted: 18 December 2014   Published: 24 March 2015

Abstract

Wildfire can affect soil hydraulic properties, often resulting in reduced infiltration. The magnitude of change in infiltration varies depending on the burn severity. Quantitative approaches to link burn severity with changes in infiltration are lacking. This study uses controlled laboratory measurements to determine relations between a remotely sensed burn severity metric (dNBR, change in normalised burn ratio) and soil hydraulic properties (SHPs). SHPs were measured on soil cores collected from an area burned by the 2013 Black Forest fire in Colorado, USA. Six sites with the same soil type were selected across a range of burn severities, and 10 random soil cores were collected from each site within a 30-m diameter circle. Cumulative infiltration measurements were made in the laboratory using a tension infiltrometer to determine field-saturated hydraulic conductivity, Kfs, and sorptivity, S. These measurements were correlated with dNBR for values ranging from 124 (low severity) to 886 (high severity). SHPs were related to dNBR by inverse functions for specific conditions of water repellency (at the time of sampling) and soil texture. Both functions had a threshold value for dNBR between 124 and 420, where Kfs and S were unchanged and equal to values for soil unaffected by fire. For dNBRs >~420, the Kfs was an exponentially decreasing function of dNBR and S was a linearly decreasing function of dNBR. These initial quantitative empirical relations provide a first step to link SHPs to burn severity, and can be used in quantitative infiltration models to predict post-wildfire infiltration and resulting runoff.

Additional keywords: hydraulic conductivity, infiltration, sorptivity, wildfire.


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