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Synthesis of soil-hydraulic properties and infiltration timescales in wildfire-affected soils

Author(s): Brian A. Ebel, John A. Moody
Year Published: 2017
Description: We collected soil-hydraulic property data from the literature for wildfire-affected soils, ash, and unburned soils. These data were used to calculate metrics and timescales of hydrologic response related to infiltration and surface runoff generation. Sorptivity (S) and wetting front potential (Ψf) were significantly different (lower) in burned soils compared with unburned soils, whereas field-saturated hydraulic conductivity (Kfs) was not significantly different. The magnitude and duration of the influence of capillarity during infiltration was greatly reduced in burned soils, causing faster ponding times in response to rainfall. Ash had large values of S and Kfs but moderate values of Ψf, compared with unburned and burned soils, indicating ash has long ponding times in response to rainfall. The ratio of S2/Kfs was nearly constant (~100 mm) for unburned soils but more variable in burned soils, suggesting that unburned soils have a balance between gravity and capillarity contributions to infiltration that may depend on soil organic matter, whereas in burned soils the gravity contribution to infiltration is greater. Changes in S and Kfs in burned soils act synergistically to reduce infiltration and accelerate and amplify surface runoff generation. Synthesis of these findings identifies three key areas for future research. First, short timescales of capillary influences on infiltration indicate the need for better measurements of infiltration at times less than 1 min to accurately characterize S in burned soils. Second, using parameter values, such as Ψf, from unburned areas could produce substantial errors in hydrologic modeling when used without adjustment for wildfire effects, causing parameter compensation and resulting underestimation of Kfs. Third, more thorough measurement campaigns that capture soil-structural changes, organic matter impacts, quantitative water repellency trends, and soil-water content along with soil-hydraulic properties could drive the development of better techniques for numerically simulating infiltration in burned areas.
Citation: Ebel, Brian A.; Moody, John A. 2017. Synthesis of soil-hydraulic properties and infiltration timescales in wildfire-affected soils. Hydrological Processes. 31(2): 324-340.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Soils
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article, Synthesis
NRFSN number: 15024
FRAMES RCS number: 23120
Record updated: Feb 13, 2017