Wildfire dramatically alters the hydrologic response of a watershed such that even modest rainstorms can produce hazardous debris flows. Relative to shallow landslides, the primary sources of material and dominant erosional processes that contribute to post-fire debris-flow initiation are poorly constrained. Improving our understanding of how and where material is eroded from a watershed during a post-fire debris-flow requires (1) precise measurements of topographic change to calculate volumetric measurements of erosion and deposition, and (2) the identification of relevant morphometrically defined process domains to spatially constrain these measurements of erosion and deposition. In this study, we combine the morphometric analysis of a steep, small (0.01 km2) headwater drainage basin with measurements of topographic change using high-resolution (2.5 cm) multi-temporal terrestrial laser scanning data made before and after a post-fire debris flow. The results of the morphometric analysis are used to define four process domains: hillslope-divergent, hillslope-convergent, transitional, and channelized incision. We determine that hillslope-divergent and hillslope-convergent process domains represent the primary sources of material over the period of analysis in the study basin. From these results we conclude that raindrop-impact induced erosion, ravel, surface wash, and rilling are the primary erosional processes contributing to post-fire debris-flow initiation in the small, steep headwater basin. Further work is needed to determine (1) how these results vary with increasing drainage basin size, (2) how these data might scale upward for use with coarser resolution measurements of topography, and (3) how these results change with evolving sediment supply conditions and vegetation recovery.
Additional publication details
Characterizing the primary material sources and dominant erosional processes for post-fire debris-flow initiation in a headwater basin using multi-temporal terrestrial laser scanning data