Initial impacts of a wildfire on hydrology and suspended sediment and nutrient export in California chaparral watersheds

Authors

  • James Scott Coombs,

    1. Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
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  • John M. Melack

    Corresponding author
    1. Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
    2. Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
    • Correspondence to: Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA.

      E-mail: melack@bren.ucsb.edu

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Abstract

Stream and rainfall gauging and runoff sampling were used to determine changes in hydrology and export of nutrients and suspended sediment from a June 2004 wildfire that burned 3010 ha in chaparral coastal watersheds of the Santa Ynez Mountains, California. Precipitation during water year 2005 exceeded average precipitation by 200–260%. Burned watersheds had order of magnitude higher peak discharge compared with unburned watersheds but similar annual runoff. Suspended sediment export of 181 mt ha−1 from a burned watershed was approximately ten times greater than from unburned watersheds. Ammonium export from burned watersheds largely occurred during the first three storms and was 32 times greater than from unburned watersheds. Nitrate, dissolved organic nitrogen, and phosphate export from burned watersheds increased by 5.5, 2.8, and 2.2 times, respectively, compared with unburned chaparral watersheds. Storm runoff and peak discharge increase in burned compared with unburned sites were greatest during early season storms when enhanced runoff occurred. As the winter progressed, closely spaced storms and above average precipitation reduced the fire-related impacts that resulted in significant increases in annual post-fire runoff and export in other studies in southern California chaparral. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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