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Rainfall thresholds for post-fire debris-flow generation, western Sierra Nevada, CA


Wildfires have become more frequent, intense, and widespread in the Western United States in the era of global climate change. Concurrently, development along wildland-urban interfaces has increased. Thus, quantification of post-fire hazards, such as debris flows and their triggering rainfall conditions, is critical for effective emergency response. We monitored the hydrologic and geomorphic responses of 10 recently burned watersheds in the areas impacted by the 2018 Ferguson Fire and the 2019 Briceburg Fire in the lower Merced River Canyon near Yosemite National Park, CA. During our monitoring, which spanned the period between November 2018 and May 2020, our study basins produced 26 debris flows in response to 60 rainstorms. The corresponding peak rainfall intensity data were used to establish empirically derived rainfall intensity-duration thresholds for debris-flow initiation for these burned areas. First-year data revealed objectively defined 15-minute-duration rainfall intensity thresholds of approximately 31 and 35 mm/hr for the Ferguson and Briceburg fires, respectively. Given the small sample size and the bimodal distribution of 15-minute-duration peak rainfall intensities observed, the objectively defined threshold may be only partially constrained. When compared to modeled estimates of spatially explicit thresholds, the objectively defined debris-flow thresholds in our analysis were higher. When compared to empirically derived thresholds from other regions, our empirical values fell in the middle of the range. This study suggests that model refinement or development of a regionally specific model may be warranted to provide more accurate information for use in emergency management decisions, potentially reducing unnecessary impacts to the public.

ISSN: 1078-7275
EISSN: 1558-9161
Coden: ENGEA9
Serial Title: Environmental & Engineering Geoscience
Serial Volume: 27
Serial Issue: 4
Title: Rainfall thresholds for post-fire debris-flow generation, western Sierra Nevada, CA
Affiliation: California State University, Fresno, CA, United States
Pages: 439-453
Published: 202111
Text Language: English
Publisher: Geological Society of America, Association of Engineering Geologists, College Station, TX, United States
References: 42
Accession Number: 2022-004531
Categories: Environmental geologyEngineering geology
Document Type: Serial
Bibliographic Level: Analytic
Illustration Description: illus. incl. 4 tables, geol. sketch maps
N37°30'00" - N37°47'60", W119°57'00" - W119°39'00"
N37°25'60" - N37°51'00", W119°58'00" - W119°35'60"
Secondary Affiliation: California Geological Survey, USA, United StatesU. S. Geological Survey, USA, United States
Country of Publication: United States
Secondary Affiliation: GeoRef, Copyright 2022, American Geosciences Institute. Abstract, Copyright, Association of Engineering Geologists and the Geological Society of America. Reference includes data from GeoScienceWorld, Alexandria, VA, United States
Update Code: 2022
Program Name: USGSOPNon-USGS publications with USGS authors
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