Heat from wildfires can produce a two-layer system composed of extremely dry soil covered by a layer of ash, which when subjected to rainfall, may produce extreme floods. To understand the soil physics controlling runoff for these initial conditions, we used a small, portable disk infiltrometer to measure two hydraulic properties: (1) near-saturated hydraulic conductivity, Kf and (2) sorptivity, S(θi), as a function of initial soil moisture content, θi, ranging from extremely dry conditions (θi < 0.02 cm3 cm−3) to near saturation. In the field and in the laboratory replicate measurements were made of ash, reference soils, soils unaffected by fire, and fire-affected soils. Each has a different degrees of water repellency that influences Kf and S(θi).
Values of Kf ranged from 4.5 × 10−3 to 53 × 10−3 cm s−1 for ash; from 0.93 × 10−3 to 130 × 10−3 cm s−1 for reference soils; and from 0.86 × 10−3 to 3.0 × 10−3 cm s−1, for soil unaffected by fire, which had the lowest values of Kf. Measurements indicated that S(θi) could be represented by an empirical non-linear function of θi with a sorptivity maximum of 0.18–0.20 cm s−0.5, between 0.03 and 0.08 cm3 cm−3. This functional form differs from the monotonically decreasing non-linear functions often used to represent S(θi) for rainfall–runoff modeling. The sorptivity maximum may represent the combined effects of gravity, capillarity, and adsorption in a transitional domain corresponding to extremely dry soil, and moreover, it may explain the observed non-linear behavior, and the critical soil-moisture threshold of water repellent soils. Laboratory measurements of Kf and S(θi) are the first for ash and fire-affected soil, but additional measurements are needed of these hydraulic properties for in situ fire-affected soils. They provide insight into water repellency behavior and infiltration under extremely dry conditions. Most importantly, they indicate how existing rainfall–runoff models can be modified to accommodate a possible two-layer system in extremely dry conditions. These modified models can be used to predict floods from burned watersheds under these initial conditions.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Linking hydraulic properties of fire-affected soils to infiltration and water repellency|
|Series title||Journal of Hydrology|
|Contributing office(s)||National Research Program - Central Branch|