Using Distributed, Integrated Hydrological Models to Simulate Water Balance Changes at the Hillslope and Catchment Scale Due to Fire Disturbances

Tuesday, 15 December 2015: 16:05
3020 (Moscone West)
Ethan Coon1, Adam Lee Atchley1, Laura Trader2, Richard Stephen Middleton1, Scott L Painter3 and Evgeny Kikinzon1, (1)Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, United States, (2)Bandelier National Monument, National Park Service, Los Alamos, NM, United States, (3)Oak Ridge National Lab, Oak Ridge, TN, United States
Catastrophic wildfires have increased worldwide due in part to previous fire suppression efforts, but also climate change. These wildfires dramatically alter ecosystem structure resulting in lasting changes to hydrological characteristics including surface runoff and subsurface water storage. Most notably fire results in the removal of forest ground cover as well as much, if not all, of the forest vegetation that is responsible for precipitation interception and transpiration from the soil. The presence of ground cover is associated with high porosity, surface roughness and infiltration rates, which can contribute to greater soil water recharge. Modeling the hydrological changes due to fire requires representation of the vegetation changes along with near surface soil characteristics, particularly ground cover. Moreover, the coupled nature of surface and subsurface flow necessitates an integrated representation of variably saturated subsurface flow and overland flow to capture infiltration-limited runoff. Here pre- and post-catastrophic fire data collected from Bandelier National Monument is used to characterize ground cover and vegetation conditions used in coupled surface subsurface hydrologic models. This data is also used to develop appropriate representations of litter layers in the models. Changes in hydrologic regimes at the hillslope and catchment scale are simulated in response to measured precipitation events. Differences in both runoff generation and soil water storage are then described along a continuum of burn severity.