Transient catchment hydrology after wildfires in a Mediterranean basin: runoff, sediment and woody debris
Abstract. The transient effect of forest fires on runoff, erosion and yield of woody biomass has been investigated by combining the experimental approach with mathematical models of hydrological processes. The case study is the Branega creek in Liguria, Italy, where a forest fire in August 2003 caused substantial changes to soil and vegetation, and left a considerable amount of woody debris on the ground. Immediately after the fire, rainfall simulator experiments in adjacent burned and unburned plots showed the extent to which fire had increased runoff and erosion rates. A distributed hydrological model using the tube-flux approach, calibrated on experimental measurements, has been used to investigate hill slope and channel erosion in a small sub-catchment, 1.5 ha in area, nested in the Branega basin. Simulation runs show that the model accommodates the observed variability of runoff and erosion under disturbed and undisturbed conditions. A model component describing the delivery of wood from hill slopes to the channel in post-fire conditions, validated against local survey data, showed that the removal and transport of woody biomass can be reproduced using an integrated hydrological approach. Hence, transient complexity after wildfires can be addressed by such an approach with empirically determined physically-based parameters.