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Fire Effects on Evapotranspiration in the Upper Rio Grande Basin using Landsat-based SSEBop

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan www.asabe.org

Citation:  2021 ASABE Annual International Virtual Meeting  2101065.(doi:10.13031/aim.202101065)
Authors:   Kyle R. Mankin, Rhythm Patel
Keywords:   Actual evapotranspiration, Operationalized Simplified Surface Energy Balance model, source-water hydrology, sub-alpine forest, wildfire.

Abstract. Ecohydrologic response to fire is complex, with devastating consequences on source-water hydrology. Postfire canopy structure, leaf area, infiltration, and soil-water storage all may act to reduce evapotranspiration (ET), a key hydrologic variable and indicator of ecohydrologic function. This study explored the use of 30-m Landsat-based SSEBop-model estimates of actual ET (ETa) to assess the effects of fire in the Upper Rio Grande Basin (2002 Million Fire, CO; 1996 Hondo Fire, NM; 2002 Montoya Fire, NM; 2000 Cerro Grande Fire, NM). SSEBop ETa data from 1985-2019 were analyzed to better understand postfire response and recovery in several sub-alpine burned areas. Results show step reductions in ETa after fire across all burn severities in all four fire areas. Prior to fire, ETa was generally higher in high severity areas, indicative of higher fuel loads, although high variability indicated the influence of additional factors. All areas had greater response to fire in high severity areas and decreasing response as burn severity decreased. The decrease in ETa after high-severity fire ranged from 42% to 63%, compared to after low-severity fire, which ranged from 24% to 44%. None of the four burn areas demonstrated postfire ETa recovery after 17 to 23 years. This study demonstrates clear utility for using remote-sensing ETa estimates as a system-level measure of susceptibility to fire, impact of fire, and, potentially, recovery after fire, although additional research is needed to account for the covariate effects of other fuel, topographic, weather, and climate factors.

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