Monitoring Soil Erosion on a Burned Site in the Mojave-Great Basin Transition Zone: Final Report for the Jacob Fire Site

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A historic return interval of 100 years for large fires in the U.S. southwestern deserts is being replaced by one where fires may reoccur as frequently as every 20 to 30 years. The shortened return interval, which translates to an increase in fires, has implications for management of Soil Corrective Action Units (CAUs) and Corrective Action Sites (CASs) for which the Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration Nevada Field Office has responsibility. A series of studies was initiated at uncontaminated analog sites to better understand the possible impacts of erosion and transport by wind and water should contaminated soil ... continued below

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Miller, Julianne; Etyemezian, Vic; Cablk, Mary E.; Shillito, Rose & Shafer, David June 1, 2013.

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A historic return interval of 100 years for large fires in the U.S. southwestern deserts is being replaced by one where fires may reoccur as frequently as every 20 to 30 years. The shortened return interval, which translates to an increase in fires, has implications for management of Soil Corrective Action Units (CAUs) and Corrective Action Sites (CASs) for which the Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration Nevada Field Office has responsibility. A series of studies was initiated at uncontaminated analog sites to better understand the possible impacts of erosion and transport by wind and water should contaminated soil sites burn. The first of these studies was undertaken at the Jacob Fire site approximately 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) north of Hiko, Nevada. A lightning-caused fire burned approximately 200 hectares during August 6-8, 2008. The site is representative of a transition between Mojave and Great Basin desert ecoregions on the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), where the largest number of Soil CAUs/CASs are located. The area that burned at the Jacob Fire site was primarily a Coleogyne ramosissima (blackbrush) and Ephedra nevadensis (Mormon tea) community, also an abundant shrub assemblage in the similar transition zone on the NNSS. This report summarizes three years of measurements after the fire. Seven measurement campaigns at the Jacob Fire site were completed. Measurements were made on burned ridge (upland) and drainage sites, and on burned and unburned sites beneath and between vegetation. A Portable In-Situ Wind Erosion Lab (PI-SWERL) was used to estimate emissions of suspended particles at different wind speeds. Context for these measurements was provided through a meteorological tower that was installed at the Jacob Fire site to obtain local, relevant environmental parameters. Filter samples, collected from the exhaust of the PI-SWERL during measurements, were analyzed for chemical composition. Runoff and water erosion were quantified through a series of rainfall/runoff simulation tests in which controlled amounts of water were delivered to the soil surface in a specified amount of time. Runoff data were collected from understory and interspace soils on burned ridge and drainage areas. Runoff volume and suspended sediment in the runoff were sampled; the particle size distribution of the sediment was determined by laboratory analysis. Several land surface and soil characteristics associated with runoff were integrated by the calculation of site-specific curve numbers. Several vegetation surveys were conducted to assess post-burn recovery. Data from plots in both burned and unburned areas included species identification, counts, and location. Characterization of fire-affected area included measures at both the landscape scale and at specific sites. Although wind erosion measurements indicate that there are seasonal influences on almost all parameters measured, several trends were observed. PI-SWERL measurements indicated the potential for PM10 windblown dust emissions was higher on areas that were burned compared to areas that were not. Among the burned areas, understory soils in drainage areas were the most emissive, and interspace soils along burned ridges were least emissive. By 34 months after the burn (MAB), at the end of the study, emissions from all burned soil sites were virtually indistinguishable from unburned levels. Like the amount of emissions, the chemical signature of the fire (indicated by the EC-Soil ratio) was elevated immediately after the fire and approached pre-burn levels by 24 MAB. Thus, the potential for wind erosion at the Jacob Fire site, as measured by the amount and type of emissions, increased significantly after the fire and returned to unburned levels by 24 MAB. The effect of fire on the potential for water erosion at the Jacob Fire site was more ambiguous. Runoff and sediment from ridge interspace soils and unburned interspace soils were similar throughout the study period. Seldom, if ever, did runoff and sediment occur in burned drainage area soils. For burned soils where runoff occurred at 1 MAB, the sediment size was finer than on unburned sites, but this effect disappeared by 3 MAB. For the three year study under the conditions tested at the Jacob Fire site, the potential for water erosion appeared relatively unaffected by the fire. Vegetation responses were documented for each year following the fire. By the end of the study, there was a substantial difference in plant densities and richness between drainage and ridge sites. Cheatgrass densities were higher in unburned plots, and cheatgrass was also more dominant in the community composition in unburned plots. Cheatgrass had increased in the burned area but so did other native species. Three years after the fire, the burned landscape continued to revegetate but had yet to approximate the condition of an unburned landscape. The results from the vegetation surveys support the wind erosion results, where the primary source of windborne particles originate from the understory, where lower plant diversity and densities were found. The soil appears to be more resilient and have a much shorter recovery time than the vegetation in this particular community.

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  • Report No.: 45253
  • Grant Number: DE-NA0000939
  • DOI: 10.2172/1096173 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 1096173
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc838252

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  • June 1, 2013

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • May 19, 2016, 9:45 a.m.

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  • April 1, 2017, 1:29 a.m.

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Miller, Julianne; Etyemezian, Vic; Cablk, Mary E.; Shillito, Rose & Shafer, David. Monitoring Soil Erosion on a Burned Site in the Mojave-Great Basin Transition Zone: Final Report for the Jacob Fire Site, report, June 1, 2013; United States. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc838252/: accessed October 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.