Changes to sediment sources following wildfire in a forested upland catchment, southeastern Australia


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Abstract

Few investigations link post-fire changes to sediment sources and erosion processes with sediment yield response at the catchment scale. This linkage is essential if downstream impacts on sediment transport after fire are to be understood in the context of fire effects across different forest environments. In this study, we quantify changing source contributions to fine sediment (<63 μm) exported from a eucalypt forest catchment (136 ha) burnt by wildfire. The study catchment is one of a pair of research catchments located in the East Kiewa River valley in southeastern Australia that have been the subject of a research program investigating wildfire effects on runoff, erosion, and catchment sediment/nutrient exports. This previous research provided the opportunity to couple insights gained from a range of measurement techniques with the application of fallout radionuclides 137Cs and 210Pbex to trace sediment sources. It was found that hillslope surface erosion dominated exports throughout the 3·5-year post-fire measurement period. During this time there was a pronounced decline in the proportional surface contribution from close to 100% in the first six months to 58% in the fourth year after fire. Over the study period, hillslope surface sources accounted for 93% of the fine sediment yield from the burnt catchment. The largest decline in the hillslope contribution occurred between the first and second years after fire, which corresponded with the previously reported large decline in sediment yield, breakdown of water repellency in burnt soils, substantial reduction in hillslope erodibility, and rapid surface vegetation recovery. Coupling the information on sediment sources with hillslope process measurements indicated that only a small proportion of slopes contributed sediment to the catchment outlet, with material derived from near-channel areas dominating the post-fire catchment sediment yield response. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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