The Hydro-Geomorphic Sensitivity of Forested Water Catchments to Wildfire

Presentation at Research Forum of the 2012 Bushfire CRC and AFAC Annual Conference.

Wildfires are a strong driver of change in many landscapes (e.g. south-eastern Australia, western USA, Canada, and the Mediterranean). Vegetation removal and changes to soil properties by wildfire can cause wide scale changes to the hydro-geomorphology of a landscape through altered hydrological flow and erosion rates. When fire occurs in a catchment area these changes can result in negative impacts on water quality, supply, and treatment. This issue is particularly pertinent in south-eastern Australia, where a large proportion of the potable water supply comes from forested catchments.

Landscape sensitivity studies investigate the manner in which systems react to a disturbance, such as wildfire, through measuring the properties of the landscape that enable it to resist, adapt to, or bounce back from change. Although rarely used to assess hydro-geomorphic changes after fire, sensitivity concepts are widely applicable in geomorphology and could help to identify and understand the properties that control post-fire effects. These concepts will also help in the classification of landscapes according to their sensitivity to fire and provide information to aid managers in the identification of highly sensitive landscapes with the potential to cause post-fire impacts on soil and water resources, infrastructure and lives.

Using the concepts of landscape sensitivity, my project investigates the interaction of the properties and processes controlling the post-fire effects in the forested landscapes of south-eastern Australian. This presentation gives an overview of my project development and work to date, and discusses how the ability to identify sensitive landscapes with the potential to cause post-fire water impacts will benefit resource managers. 

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