Wildfire impacts on soil-water retention in the Colorado Front Range, United States

Water Resources Research



This work examined the plot-scale differences in soil-water retention caused by wildfire in the area of the 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire in the Colorado Front Range, United States. We measured soil-water retention curves on intact cores and repacked samples, soil particle-size distributions, and organic matter content. Estimates were also made of plant-available water based on the soil-water retention curves. Parameters for use in soil-hydraulic property models were estimated; these parameters can be used in unsaturated flow modeling for comparing burned and unburned watersheds. The primary driver for measured differences in soil-water retention in burned and unburned soils was organic matter content and not soil-particle size distribution. The tendency for unburned south-facing soils to have greater organic matter content than unburned north-facing soils in this field area may explain why unburned south-facing soils had greater soil-water retention than unburned north-facing soils. Our results suggest that high-severity wildfire can “homogenize” soil-water retention across the landscape by erasing soil-water retention differences resulting from organic matter content, which for this site may be affected by slope aspect. This homogenization could have important implications for ecohydrology and plant succession/recovery in burned areas, which could be a factor in dictating the window of vulnerability of the landscape to flash floods and erosion that are a common consequence of wildfire.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Wildfire impacts on soil-water retention in the Colorado Front Range, United States
Series title Water Resources Research
DOI 10.1029/2012WR012362
Volume 48
Issue 12
Year Published 2012
Language English
Publisher AGU Publications
Contributing office(s) National Research Program - Central Branch
Description W12515; 12 p.
First page 1
Last page 12
Country United States
State Colorado
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