A model for fire-induced sediment yield by dry ravel in steep landscapes

Michael P. Lamb, Joel S. Scheingross, William H. Amidon, Erika Swanson, Ajay Limaye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Sediment flux from hillslopes to channels commonly increases following wildfires, with implications for the carbon cycle, river habitats, and debris-flow hazards. Although much of this material is transported via dry ravel, existing ravel models are not applicable to hillslopes with gradients greater than the angle of repose, which can constitute the majority of mountainous terrain. To fill this knowledge gap, we develop a continuity model for sediment storage by vegetation dams on steep hillslopes to predict sediment yields following wildfire. The maximum volume of sediment stored prior to wildfire is set to be a function of vegetation density, the capacity of plants to impound sediment, and the contributing hillslope area. Time is required after fire to establish vegetation and replenish hillslope sediment storage, which introduces vegetation regrowth rate, soil production rate, and fire recurrence interval as important variables that affect ravel yield. Model results for the San Gabriel Mountains, California, predict that sediment yield can increase by several orders of magnitude following fire. These results are consistent with field data of ravel yield (∼30 mm per contributing area of hillslope in 5 months) we collected following the 2009 Station Fire, as well as postfire sediment flux recorded by 93 debris basins. In contrast to previous work, our model shows that heightened postfire sediment yields can be explained by a change in hillslope sediment storage independent of major changes in the soil production rate and landscape form over geomorphic timescales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberF03006
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2011

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