Untangling the effects of seasonality and post-fire stream channel erosion on the hydrologic response of a burned mountain catchment

Gieschen, Michael, author
Nelson, Peter, advisor
Covino, Tim, committee member
Julien, Pierre, committee member
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Stream channel incision and deposition are common after wildfire, and these geomorphic changes may impact runoff mechanisms and the composition of pre-event and event water in runoff. To investigate this, we monitored discharge and electrical conductivity at 6 nested sites within a 15.5 km2 watershed in the northern Colorado Front Range that had recently burned, experienced large flooding, and well-documented and significant channel erosion and deposition. Over the study period, the watershed experienced seven precipitation events. For each hydrograph, we separate baseflow from runoff using a new method to characterize and account for the strong diurnal signal in the baseflow. Electrical conductivity is used as a tracer in a two-component end-member mixing analysis to separate the event hydrographs into event and pre-event water. Correlation coefficients were computed between key variables of the hydrologic response (such as runoff ratio, volumes of event and pre-event water) to storm and basin characteristics (including stream channel erosion/deposition, fraction of high/moderate burn severity, precipitation intensity, and antecedent precipitation). The strength and significance of correlations was found to vary seasonally. In the early season, event and pre-event volumes did not vary significantly with basin or storm characteristics. In the late season, antecedent precipitation correlated with a decrease in event runoff (R2 = 0.34) and total runoff (R2 = 0.40), increased precipitation intensity correlated with an increase in event runoff (R2 = 0.48), and local erosion correlated with an increase in pre-event runoff (R2 = 0.60) and total runoff (R2 = 0.53). These findings indicate that seasonality and post-fire stream channel erosion influence the makeup of runoff response, most likely through their impact on the gradient of the near-stream groundwater table.
2022 Spring.
Includes bibliographical references.
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electrical conductivity
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