Monitoring Soil Erosion of a Burn Site in the Central Basin and Range Ecoregion: Final Report on Measurements at the Gleason Fire Site, Nevada

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The increase in wildfires in arid and semi-arid parts of Nevada and elsewhere in the southwestern United States has implications for post-closure management and long-term stewardship for Soil Corrective Action Units (CAUs) on the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) for which the Nevada Field Office of the United States Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration has responsibility. For many CAUs and Corrective Action Sites, where closure-in-place alternatives are now being implemented or considered, there is a chance that these sites could burn over at some time while they still pose a risk to the environment or human health, given ... continued below

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Miller, Julianne; Etyemezian, Vicken; Shillito, Rose; Cablk, Mary; Fenstermaker, Lynn & Shafer, David October 1, 2013.

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Description

The increase in wildfires in arid and semi-arid parts of Nevada and elsewhere in the southwestern United States has implications for post-closure management and long-term stewardship for Soil Corrective Action Units (CAUs) on the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) for which the Nevada Field Office of the United States Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration has responsibility. For many CAUs and Corrective Action Sites, where closure-in-place alternatives are now being implemented or considered, there is a chance that these sites could burn over at some time while they still pose a risk to the environment or human health, given the long half lives of some of the radionuclide contaminants. This study was initiated to examine the effects and duration of wildfire on wind and water erodibility on sites analogous to those that exist on the NNSS. The data analyzed herein were gathered at the prescribed Gleason Fire site near Ely, Nevada, a site comparable to the northern portion of the NNSS. Quantification of wind erosion was conducted with a Portable In-Situ Wind ERosion Lab (PI-SWERL) on unburned soils, and on interspace and plant understory soils within the burned area. The PI-SWERL was used to estimate emissions of suspendible particles (particulate matter with aerodynamic diameters less than or equal to 10 micrometers) at different wind speeds. Filter samples, collected from the exhaust of the PI-SWERL during measurements, were analyzed for chemical composition. Based on nearly three years of data, the Gleason Fire site does not appear to have returned to pre burn wind erosion levels. Chemical composition data of suspendible particles are variable and show a trend toward pre-burn levels, but provide little insight into how the composition has been changing over time since the fire. Soil, runoff, and sediment data were collected from the Gleason Fire site to monitor the water erosion potential over the nearly three-year period. Soil hydrophobicity (water repellency) was noted on burned understory soils up to 12 months after the fire, as was the presence of ash on the soil surface. Soil deteriorated from a strong, definable pre-fire structure to a weakly cohesive mass (unstructured soil) immediately after the fire. Surface soil structure was evident 34 months after the fire at both burned and unburned sites, but was rare and weaker at burned sites. The amount of runoff and sediment was highly variable, but runoff occurred more frequently at burned interspace sites compared to burned understory and unburned interspace sites up to 34 months after the burn. No discernible pattern was evident on the amount of sediment transported, but the size of sediment from burned understory sites was almost double that of burned and unburned interspace soils after the fire, and decreased over the monitoring period. Curve numbers, a measure of the runoff potential, did not indicate any obvious runoff response to the fire. However, slight seasonal changes in curve numbers and runoff potential and, therefore, post-fire runoff response may be a function of fire impacts as well as the time of year that precipitation occurs. Site (interspace or understory) differences in soil properties and runoff persisted even after the fire. Vegetation data showed the presence of invasive grasses after the fire. Results from analysis of wind and water coupled with the spatial analysis of vegetation suggest that wind erosion may continue to occur due to the additional exposed soil surface (burned understory sites) until vegetation becomes re-established, and runoff may occur more frequently in interspace sites. The potential for fire-related wind erosion and water erosion may persist beyond three years in this system.

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  • Report No.: 45254
  • Grant Number: DE-NA0000939
  • DOI: 10.2172/1104497 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 1104497
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc866239

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  • October 1, 2013

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  • Sept. 16, 2016, 12:32 a.m.

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  • April 1, 2017, 1:30 a.m.

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Miller, Julianne; Etyemezian, Vicken; Shillito, Rose; Cablk, Mary; Fenstermaker, Lynn & Shafer, David. Monitoring Soil Erosion of a Burn Site in the Central Basin and Range Ecoregion: Final Report on Measurements at the Gleason Fire Site, Nevada, report, October 1, 2013; United States. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc866239/: accessed September 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.