Abstract

Wildfire is one of the most significant disturbances in mountainous landscapes and can affect soil temperature, which can in turn impact ecologic and geomorphologic processes. This study measured the temperature in near-surface soil (i.e., top 30 cm) during the first summer after a wildfire. In mountainous environments, aspect can also affect soil temperature, so north- vs. south-facing aspects were compared using a fully factorial experimental design to explore the effects of both wildfire and aspect on soil temperature. The data showed major wildfire impacts on soil temperatures on north-facing aspects (unburned ∼4–5°C cooler, on average) but little impact on south-facing aspects. Differences in soil temperatures between north-facing and south-facing unburned aspects (north ∼5°C cooler, on average) were also observed. The data led to the conclusion that, for this field site during the summer period, the forest canopy and litter and duff layers on north-facing slopes (when unburned) substantially decreased mean soil temperatures and temperature variability. The sparse trees on south-facing slopes caused little to no difference in soil temperatures following wildfire in south-facing soils for unburned compared with burned conditions. The results indicate that wildfire can reduce or even remove aspect impacts on soil temperature by combusting the forest canopy and litter and duff layers, which then homogenizes soil temperatures across the landscape.

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