Modeling potential erosion due to the Cerro Grande fire with a GIS-based implementation of the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation

Jay D. Miller, John W. Nyhan, Stephen R. Yool

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

49 Scopus citations

Abstract

Erosional processes directly influenced by wildland fire include reduction or elimination of above-ground biomass, reduction of soil organic matter, and hydrophobicity. High fuel loads promoted by decades of fire suppression in the U.S. increase the duration and intensity of burning, amplifying these effects. The Cerro Grande fire (6-31 May 2000) consumed approximately 15 000 hectares around and within the town of Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA. Private and public infrastructure including Los Alamos National Laboratory are at continuing risk due to increased threats of upstream erosion. We use a geographic information system (GIS) based implementation of the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) to model pre- and post-fire soil loss conditions and aid erosion risk analysis. Pre- and post-fire vegetation cover data layers were generated from Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) and Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM) data. Based upon annual average rainfall amounts we estimate that subwatershed average pre-fire erosion rates range from 0.45 to 9.22 tonnes ha-1 yr-1 while post-fire erosion rates before watershed treatments range from 1.72 to 113.26 tonnes ha-1 yr-1. Rates are approximately 3.7 times larger for 50 year return interval rainfall amounts. It is estimated that watershed treatments including reseeding will decrease soil loss between 0.34 and 25.98% in the first year on treated subwatersheds. Immediately after the fire an interagency Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) team produced initial estimates of soil erosion. Our estimates of average erosion rates by subwatershed were in general larger than those initial estimates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-100
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Wildland Fire
Volume12
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 28 2003

Keywords

  • Cover factor
  • Rainfall-runoff erosivity factor
  • Slope length and steepness factor
  • Soil erodibility
  • Watershed
  • Wildland fire

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Ecology

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