Quantifying the Effects of Wildfire Severity on Snow Water Equivalent in the Sierra Nevada Authors: Sean Cunningham, Nolan Cate,
Friday, 18 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is a crucial component of the California water supply. Climate change effects on forest ecosystems in this region have reduced snowpack and resulted in earlier snowmelt. Wildfire frequency and severity in the Sierra Nevada have also increased, due to higher temperatures, drought, and a legacy of fire suppression policies leading to fuel loads augmented beyond the historic range of variability. These combined factors have the potential to severely impact California water supply. Using 2014 California Basin Characterization Model (BCM) climate data and automated classification of various Landsat imagery, this study geospatially quantified the effects of low, moderate, and high- severity wildfire on snowpack and snow water equivalent (SWE) in the Sierra Nevada. An assessment of modeled SWE data were also conducted to examine its usefulness in better understanding areas effected by wildfire. Results indicate little to no significant change in post-fire SWE for high and moderate severity wildfire, however, delineated a significant decrease in post-fire SWE in the low severity wildfire. Additionally, tests show little no significant change in fractional snow cover post-fire. This use of remote sensing and modeled data will assist in decision and policy making related to management of forest ecosystems and water resources within the Sierra Nevada.