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Project ID: 20-1-01-26

Year: 2020

Date Started: 08/16/2020

Ending Date:  08/15/2022

Title: Prescribed Fire Effects on Soil Hydraulic Properties and Ecohydrological Function

Project Proposal Abstract: A. Problem Statement Wildfire directly changes the physical properties of the Earths critical zone, which leads to catastrophic changes in ecological and hydrological processes.1 Uncontrolled wildfire in forested headwater catchments often increases the risk to downstream communities and ecosystems from increased frequency and magnitude of runoff, erosion, landslides, and debris flows. Post-fire changes to soil properties also limit the total soil moisture storage and plant available water in recovering systems due to a combination of organic matter loss and direct changes to soil bulk properties2, posing risk to long-term forest regrowth and stability. To mitigate these risks, we need improved understanding of the key mechanisms that control fire effects on soil, to predict post-fire ecohydrological response across a broad range of ecoregions. With the expected increases in wildfire burned area and burn severity in the western U.S.3, land managers will require effective science-based decision support tools to efficiently direct mitigation efforts in highly sensitive landscapes. Currently, many models exist to assist managers in targeted post-fire treatment and pre-fire planning for erosion and flood risk4. There are a growing number of groups, including forest managers, some Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams in the U.S. and similar groups internationally5, relying on physically-based models such as the Water Erosion Prediction Project (WEPP) model. Various targeted interfaces of this model, including the Erosion Risk Management Tool6 (ERMiT) and Disturbed WEPP7, along with newer spatial interfaces8,9, have proved valuable for pre-fire planning and rapid assessment. However, these models are currently stuck with general hydraulic parameterizations of post-fire soils. Continuous, quantitative functions capturing the key changes to different types of soils that then cause post-fire response variations are lacking. Without such generalized functions, the potential value of spatially-distributed risk and impact models remains substantially hampered. While general effects of fire on soils are well known, we lack robust functions to quantitatively transform pre-fire soil survey data (e.g., SSURGO10) to the post-fire altered-states needed for site-specific ecohydrological and geomorphological assessments for prescribed fire planning and wildfire mitigation. B. Objectives We will collect pre- and post-fire soil samples across a variety of fuel types and soil textural classes to test the primary research question (RQ1): How do prescribed fire and wildfire alter soil hydraulic properties across differing ecological and soil-type settings? By targeting this question with field and lab soil hydraulic tests, we will also address the more applied management question (RQ2) : How can widely-used fire-impact models efficiently translate available pre-fire soil characteristics into applicable post-fire emergent hydraulic properties to improve modeled water, landscape change and hazard risk predictions? C. Benefits The key products derived from this work will be direct improvements to the quantification and simulation of post-fire soil traits, such as are critically needed in widely applied ecosystem change and hazard models, including WEPP-based interfaces6,11,12. By addressing RQ1, we will contribute needed improvements in scientific understanding of the post-fire hydraulic properties and how they change across differing ecosystems, geographic settings, and soils. These relationships will be translated into algorithms for model integration, as addressed by RQ2, and tested in key modeling frameworks currently used by post-wildfire assessment teams.

Principal Investigator: Kevan B Moffett

Agency/Organization: Washington State University-Pullman

Branch or Dept: School of Earth & Environmental Sciences

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Dan G. Nordquist

Washington State University-Pullman

Office of Grant & Research Development

Budget Contact

Dan G. Nordquist

Washington State University-Pullman

Office of Grant & Research Development

Student Investigator

Dylan S Quinn

Washington State University-Pullman

School of Earth & Environmental Sciences

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network


Northern Rockies







Pacific Coast States





Private lands

Project Deliverables

There is no final report available for this project.
There are no deliverables available for this project.

Supporting Documents

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