19 Feb 2024
 | 19 Feb 2024

The influence of burn severity on dissolved organic carbon concentrations across a stream network differs based on seasonal wetness conditions post-fire

Katie A. Wampler, Kevin D. Bladon, and Allison N. Myers-Pigg

Abstract. Large, high severity wildfires in many regions across the globe have increased concerns about their impacts on carbon cycling in watersheds. Altered sources of carbon and changes in catchment hydrology after wildfire can lead to shifts in dissolved organic carbon concentrations (DOC) in streams, which can have negative impacts on aquatic ecosystem health and downstream drinking water treatment. Despite its importance, post-fire DOC responses remain relatively unconstrained in the literature, and we lack critical knowledge of how burn severity, landscape elements, and climate interact to affect DOC concentrations. To improve our understanding of the impact of burn severity on DOC concentrations, we measured DOC at ~100 sites across a stream network extending upstream, within, and downstream of a large, high severity wildfire in Oregon, USA. We collected samples across the study sub-basin during four distinct seasonal wetness conditions. We used our high spatial resolution data to develop spatial stream network (SSN) models to predict DOC across the stream network and to improve our understanding of the controls on DOC concentrations. Spatially, we found no obvious wildfire signal—instead we observed a pattern of increasing DOC concentrations from the high elevation headwaters to the sub-basin outlet, while the mainstem maintained consistently low DOC concentrations. This suggests that effects from large wildfires may be “averaged” out at higher stream orders and larger spatial scales. With our DOC measurements grouped by burn severity group, we observed a significant decrease in the variability of DOC concentrations in the moderate and high burn severity sub-catchments. However, our SSN models were able to predict decreases in DOC concentrations with increases in burn severity across the stream network. Decreases in DOC concentrations were also highly variable across seasonal wetness conditions, with the greatest (-1.40 to -1.64 mg L-1) decrease in the high severity group during the wetting season. Additionally, our models indicated that in all seasons, baseflow index was more influential in predicting DOC concentrations than burn severity, indicating that groundwater discharge can obscure the impacts of wildfire in a stream network. Overall, our results suggest that landscape characteristics can regulate the DOC response to wildfire. Moreover, our results also indicate that the seasonal timing of sampling can influence the observed response of DOC concentrations to wildfire.

Katie A. Wampler, Kevin D. Bladon, and Allison N. Myers-Pigg

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  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2024-273', Anonymous Referee #1, 20 Mar 2024
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2024-273', Anonymous Referee #2, 21 Mar 2024
Katie A. Wampler, Kevin D. Bladon, and Allison N. Myers-Pigg
Katie A. Wampler, Kevin D. Bladon, and Allison N. Myers-Pigg


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Short summary
Following a high severity wildfire, we sampled ~130 sites during four different times of the year across a stream network to quantify dissolved organic carbon. The results from our study suggested that dissolved organic carbon may decrease with increasing burn severity. They also suggested that landscape characteristics can override wildfire impacts, with the seasonal timing of sampling influencing the observed response of dissolved organic carbon concentrations to wildfire.