Predicting the Spatial Variability of Fuel Moisture Content in Mountainous Eucalyptus Forests

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 12:05 PM
Gary J Sheridan1, Petter Nyman1, Patrick N J Lane2 and Daniel Metzen2, (1)University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, Australia, (2)University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia
In steep mountainous landscapes, topographic aspect can play a significant role in small-scale (ie. scales in the order of 10’s ha) variability in surface fuel moisture. Experimental sites for monitoring microclimate variables and moisture content in litter and in near-surface soils were established at a control site and on four contrasting aspects (north, south, east and west) in southeast Australia. At each of the four microclimate sites sensors are arranged to measure the soil moisture (2 replicates), surface fuel moisture at 2.5cm depth (12 replicates), precipitation throughfall (3 replicates), radiation (3 replicates), and screen level relative humidity, air temperature, leaf wetness, and wind speed (1 replicate of each). Temperature and relative humidity are also measured within the dead fine surface fuel using Ibutton’s (4 replicates). All measurements are logged continuously at 15 min intervals. The moisture content of the surface fuel is estimated using a novel method involving high-replication of low-cost continuous soil moisture sensors placed at the centre of a 5cm deep sample of fine dead surface fuel, referred to here as “litter-packs”. The litter-packs were constructed from fuels collected from the area surrounding the microclimate site.

The initial results show the moisture regime on the forest floor was highly sensitive to the incoming shortwave radiation, which was up to 6 times higher in the north-facing (equatorial) slopes due to slope orientation and the sparse vegetation compared to vegetation on the south-facing (polar facing) slopes. Differences in shortwave radiation resulted in peak temperatures within the litter that were up to 2 times higher on the equatorial-facing site than those on the polar-facing site. For instance, on a day in November 2013 with maximum open air temperature of 35o C, the temperatures within the litter layer at the north-facing and south-facing sites were 54o C and 32o C, respectively, despite air temperature at the two sites differing by less than 2o C. The minimum gravimetric water content in the litter layer on the same day was 21% on the equatorial-facing slope and 85% on the polar-facing slope. The experimental data has been used to calibrate a topographic downscaling algorithm, yielding estimates of surface fuel moisture at 20m resolution.