This study used intact soil cores collected at the Boulder Creek Critical Zone Observatory near Boulder, Colorado, USA to explore fire impacts on soil properties.
Three soil scenarios were considered: unburned control soils, and low- and high-temperature burned soils. We explored simulated fire impacts on field-saturated hydraulic conductivity, dry bulk density, total organic carbon, and infiltration processes during rainfall simulations.
New hydrological insights for the region
Soils burned to high temperatures became more homogeneous with depth with respect to total organic carbon and bulk density, suggesting reductions in near-surface porosity. Organic matter decreased significantly with increasing soil temperature. Tension infiltration experiments suggested a decrease in infiltration rates from unburned to low-temperature burned soils, and an increase in infiltration rates in high-temperature burned soils. Non-parametric statistical tests showed that field-saturated hydraulic conductivity similarly decreased from unburned to low-temperature burned soils, and then increased with high-temperature burned soils. We interpret these changes result from the combustion of surface and near-surface organic materials, enabling water to infiltrate directly into soil instead of being stored in the litter and duff layer at the surface. Together, these results indicate that fire-induced changes in soil properties from low temperatures were not as drastic as high temperatures, but that reductions in surface soil water repellency in high temperatures may increase infiltration relative to low temperatures.
Wieting, C., Ebel, B. A., Singha, K. (2017): Quantifying the effects of wildfire on changes in soil properties by surface burning of soils from the Boulder Creek Critical Zone Observatory. Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies Volume 13, October 2017, Pages 43-57. DOI: 10.1016/j.ejrh.2017.07.006