Increased wind erosion from forest wildfire: Implications for contaminant-related risks

Jeffrey J. Whicker, John E. Finder, David D. Breshears

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Assessments of contaminant-related human and ecological risk require estimation of transport rates, but few data exist on wind-driven transport rates in nonagricultural systems, particularly in response to ecosystem disturbances such as forest wildfire and also relative to water-driven transport. The Cerro Grande wildfire in May of 2000 burned across ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Douglas ex P.&C. Lawson var. scopulorum Englem.) forest within Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico, where contaminant transport and associated post-fire inhalation risks are of concern. In response, the objectives of this study were to measure and compare wind-driven horizontal and vertical dust fluxes, metrics of transport related to wind erosion, for 3 yr for sites differentially affected by the Cerro Grande wildfire: unbnmed, moderately burned (fire mostly confined to ground vegetation), and severely burned (crown fare). Wind-driven dust flux was significantly greater in both types of burned areas relative to unburned areas, by more than one order of magnitude initially and by two to three times 1 yr after the fire. Unexpectedly, the elevated dust fluxes did not decrease during the second and third years in burned areas, apparently because ongoing drought delayed post-fire recovery. Our estimates enable assessment of amplification in contaminant-related risks following a major type of disturbance-wildfire, which is expected to increase in intensity and frequency due to climate change. More generally, our results highlight the importance of considering wind- as wel as water-driven transport and erosion, particularly following disturbance, for ecosystem biogeochemistry in general and human and ecological risk assessment in particular.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)468-478
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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