In this study we examine factors that pertain to the generation of debris flows from a basin recently burned by wildfire. Throughout the summer 2000 thunderstorm season, we monitored rain gauges, channel cross-sections, hillslope transects, and nine sediment-runoff traps deployed in a steep, 0??15 km2 basin burned by the May 2000 Cerro Grande fire in New Mexico. Debris flows were triggered in the monitored basin during a rainstorm on July 16, 2000, in response to a maximum 30 min rainfall intensity of 31 mm h-1 (return period of approximately 2 years). Eleven other storms occurred before and after the July storm; these storms resulted in significant runoff, but did not generate debris flows. The debris flows generated by the July 16 storm initiated on a broad, open hillslope as levee-lined rills. The levees were composed of gravel- and cobble-sized material supported by an abundant fine-grained matrix. Debris-flow deposits were observed only on the hillslopes and in the first and second-order drainages of the monitored basin. No significant amounts of channel incision were measured following the passage of the debris flows, indicating that most of the material in the flows originated from the hillslopes. Sediment-runoff concentrations of between 0??23 and 0??81 kg 1-1 (with a mean of 0-42 kg 1-1) were measured from the hillslope traps following the debris-flow-producing storm. These concentrations, however, were not unique to the July 16 storm. The materials entrained by the July 16 storm contained a higher proportion of silt- plus clay-sized materials in the <2 mm fraction than the materials collected from storms that produced comparable sediment-runoff concentrations but not debris flows. The difference in materials demonstrates the critical role of the availability of fine-grained wood ash mantling the hillslopes in the runoff-dominated generation of post-wildfire debris flows. The highest sediment-runoff concentrations, again not unique to debris-flow production, were produced from maximum 30 min rainfall intensities greater than 20 mm h-1. Copyright ?? 2001 John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.
Additional publication details
A process for fire-related debris flow initiation, Cerro Grande fire, New Mexico