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Keywords:

  • wildfire;
  • suspended sediment;
  • sediment rating curves;
  • erosion;
  • sediment yield;
  • Arizona

Abstract

Wildfire has been shown to increase erosion by several orders of magnitude, but knowledge regarding short-term variations in post-fire sediment transport processes has been lacking. We present a detailed analysis of the immediate post-fire sediment dynamics in a semi-arid basin in the southwestern USA based on suspended sediment rating curves. During June and July 2003, the Aspen Fire in the Coronado National Forest of southern Arizona burned an area of 343 km2. Surface water samples were collected in an affected watershed using an event-based sampling strategy. Sediment rating parameters were determined for individual storm events during the first 18 months after the fire. The highest sediment concentrations were observed immediately after the fire. Through the two subsequent monsoon seasons there was a progressive change in rating parameters related to the preferential removal of fine to coarse sediment. During the corresponding winter seasons, there was a lower supply of sediment from the hillslopes, resulting in a time-invariant set of sediment rating parameters. A sediment mass-balance model corroborated the physical interpretations. The temporal variability in the sediment rating parameters demonstrates the importance of storm-based sampling in areas with intense monsoon activity to characterize post-fire sediment transport accurately. In particular, recovery of rating parameters depends on the number of high-intensity rainstorms. These findings can be used to constrain rapid assessment fire-response models for planning mitigation activities. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.