Abstract

Hydrologic processes during extreme rainfall events are poorly characterized because of the rarity of measurements. Improved understanding of hydrologic controls on natural hazards is needed because of the potential for substantial risk during extreme precipitation events. We present field measurements of the degree of soil saturation and estimates of available soil-water storage during the September 2013 Colorado extreme rainfall event at burned (wildfire in 2010) and unburned hillslopes with north- and south-facing slope aspects. Soil saturation was more strongly correlated with slope aspect than with recent fire history; south-facing hillslopes became fully saturated while north-facing hillslopes did not. Our results suggest multiple explanations for why aspect-dependent hydrologic controls favor saturation development on south-facing slopes, causing reductions in effective stress and triggering of slope failures during extreme rainfall. Aspect-dependent hydrologic behavior may result from (1) a larger gravel and stone fraction, and hence lower soil-water storage capacity, on south-facing slopes, and (2) lower weathered-bedrock permeability on south-facing slopes, because of lower tree density and associated deep roots penetrating bedrock as well as less intense weathering, inhibiting soil drainage.

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