Inundation and flow properties of a runoff-generated debris flow following successive high-severity wildfires in northern Arizona, USA

Alexander N. Gorr, Luke A. McGuire, Ann M. Youberg, Rebecca Beers, Tao Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Burned slopes are susceptible to runoff-generated debris flows in the years following wildfire due to reductions in vegetation cover and soil infiltration capacity. Debris flows can pose serious threats to downstream communities, so quantifying variations in flow properties along debris-flow runout paths is needed to improve both conceptual and quantitative models of debris-flow behaviour to help anticipate and mitigate the risk associated with these events. Changes in flow properties along the runout paths of the runoff-generated debris flows that follow fire may be particularly dramatic, since they initiate when a water-dominated flow rapidly entrains sediment and later transition back to a water-dominated flow once they reach greater drainage areas and lower slopes. Here, we study the properties of a debris flow that initiated 1 month following the 2022 Pipeline Fire in northern Arizona, USA. We categorized flow type into two classes, granular debris flow and muddy debris flow, along the 7-km runout path and examined how flow properties varied between the phases. Changes in channel gradient and confinement likely facilitated the transition between the flow phases, which were characterized by significant differences in maximum clast size, but similar clay content and fine fractions. We also found that the volume and runout distance of the debris flow were 28 and six times greater, respectively, than that of a debris flow that initiated in the same watershed following a fire 12 years earlier. We attribute these differences to the combined effects of two high-severity fires, suggesting that consideration of recent fire history could improve post-fire debris-flow hazard assessments. Results of this study provide quantitative constraints on changes in post-fire debris-flow properties along a runout path. Data collected in this study add to a small number of debris-flow inundation datasets that can be used to test runout models in post-fire settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)622-641
Number of pages20
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Volume49
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2024

Keywords

  • debris flow
  • flow classification
  • hazard assessment
  • inundation
  • successive wildfire

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)

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