An Analysis of the Effects of Large Wildfires on the Hydrology of Three Small Catchments in Central Chile Using Tritium-Based Measurements and Hydrological Metrics

Francisco Balocchi, Diego Rivera, José Luis Arumi, Uwe Morgenstern, Donald A. White, Richard P. Silberstein, Pablo Ramírez de Arellano

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6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Wildfires are an important disturbance affecting catchments’ soil and hydrological processes within. Wildfires are predicted to increase in both frequency and severity under climate change. Here, we present measurements of tritium (3H) in surface water of three streams before and after the ‘las Máquinas’ megafire of January 2017 in central Chile and streamflow metrics. Mean transit times (MTTs) of water were calculated in three coastal catchments with the Mediterranean climate type, covered by native forest, a mixture of native forest and Pinus radiata D. Don, and P. radiata. Lumped parameter models (LPMs) were used to obtain MTTs. Tritium activities from 2012 to 2018 ranged from 0.597 to 0.927 Tritium Units (TU), with the lowest TU activity in 2018. These3H concentrations indicated water ages from 5 to 30 years. Following the fire, peak flows and baseflow have increased in two catchments but decreased in the third. Even though we have seen changes in the hydrological responses within the three catchments, pre-and post-fire MTT values were not significantly different. Therefore, there is no conclusive evidence of hydrological changes at the groundwater level due to wildfire at this early stage. However, since the MTT ranges from 5 to 30 years, it is likely that more time is required for the changes in the hydrograph to be clearly reflected in the tritium signal even though there are noticeable changes in streamflow metrics such as runoff and baseflow. Within the following years from this study, a sampling schedule to continue to investigate both the long-term drought and the effect of wildfire on these catchments will be maintained.

Original languageEnglish
Article number45
JournalHydrology
Volume9
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

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