Increased erosion is a well-known response after wildfire. To predict and to model erosion on a landscape scale requires knowledge of the critical shear stress for the initiation of motion of soil particles. As this soil property is temperature-dependent, a quantitative relation between critical shear stress and the temperatures to which the soils have been subjected during a wildfire is required. In this study the critical shear stress was measured in a recirculating flume using samples of forest soil exposed to different temperatures (40??-550??C) for 1 hour. Results were obtained for four replicates of soils derived from three different types of parent material (granitic bedrock, sandstone, and volcanic tuffs). In general, the relation between critical shear stress and temperature can be separated into three different temperature ranges (<175??C; 175??C-275??C; >275??C), which are similar to those for water repellency and temperature. The critical shear stress was most variable (1.0-2.0 N m-2) for temperatures <175??C, was a maximum (>2.0 N m-2) between 175?? and 275??C, and was essentially constant (0.5-0.8 N m-2) for temperatures >275??C. The changes in critical shear stress with temperature were found to be essentially independent of soil type and suggest that erosion processes in burned watersheds can be modeled more simply than erosion processes in unburned watersheds. Wildfire reduces the spatial variability of soil erodibility associated with unburned watersheds by eliminating the complex effects of vegetation in protecting soils and by reducing the range of cohesion associated with different types of unburned soils. Our results indicate that modeling the erosional response after a wildfire depends primarily on determining the spatial distribution of the maximum soil temperatures that were reached during the wildfire. Copyright 2005 by the American Geophysical Union.
Additional publication details
Critical shear stress for erosion of cohesive soils subjected to temperatures typical of wildfires