Observed and simulated hydrologic response for a first-order catchment during extreme rainfall 3 years after wildfire disturbance

Water Resources Research
By: , and 



Hydrologic response to extreme rainfall in disturbed landscapes is poorly understood because of the paucity of measurements. A unique opportunity presented itself when extreme rainfall in September 2013 fell on a headwater catchment (i.e., <1 ha) in Colorado, USA that had previously been burned by a wildfire in 2010. We compared measurements of soil-hydraulic properties, soil saturation from subsurface sensors, and estimated peak runoff during the extreme rainfall with numerical simulations of runoff generation and subsurface hydrologic response during this event. The simulations were used to explore differences in runoff generation between the wildfire-affected headwater catchment, a simulated unburned case, and for uniform versus spatially variable parameterizations of soil-hydraulic properties that affect infiltration and runoff generation in burned landscapes. Despite 3 years of elapsed time since the 2010 wildfire, observations and simulations pointed to substantial surface runoff generation in the wildfire-affected headwater catchment by the infiltration-excess mechanism while no surface runoff was generated in the unburned case. The surface runoff generation was the result of incomplete recovery of soil-hydraulic properties in the burned area, suggesting recovery takes longer than 3 years. Moreover, spatially variable soil-hydraulic property parameterizations produced longer duration but lower peak-flow infiltration-excess runoff, compared to uniform parameterization, which may have important hillslope sediment export and geomorphologic implications during long duration, extreme rainfall. The majority of the simulated surface runoff in the spatially variable cases came from connected near-channel contributing areas, which was a substantially smaller contributing area than the uniform simulations.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Observed and simulated hydrologic response for a first-order catchment during extreme rainfall 3 years after wildfire disturbance
Series title Water Resources Research
DOI 10.1002/2016WR019110
Volume 52
Issue 12
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher AGU
Contributing office(s) National Research Program - Central Branch
Description 23 p.
First page 9367
Last page 9389
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