Immediate strategic deployment of instrumentation and field sampling is needed to capture the initial impacts of the unprecedented forest fires in the western Oregon Cascades on snow hydrology and quantity, quality, and timing of downstream water resource availability. The research project will quantify immediate post-fire impacts on watershed hydrology and downstream water quality in the headwaters of the Santiam River, which have not burned in recent history and provide drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people. The research will bring together headwater hydrology, fire, and forest ecology researchers, while supporting a female early career faculty, a PhD student, and a female MS student in a new research collaboration, developing relationships and cooperation across federal agencies. This research will facilitate informed post-fire policy and management decisions that will reduce post-wildfire costs and risks to public health and maintain long-term water security.

Forest fires may increase snow accumulation, but accelerate snowmelt rates, and advance the timing of snow disappearance and associated peak streamflow for years following fire. This advanced spring flush will likely alter the timing of downstream water resource availability, as well as mobilize sediment and nutrients into critical water source areas. Using forest, stream, and snow monitoring, this research will quantify snow-water volume, snowmelt rate and timing, soil moisture, streamflow, downstream turbidity, soil and forest burn severities, and weather variability with elevation during the first winter after fire. This first season of data will initiate future research to more broadly and deeply understand the patterns and processes linking post-fire forest structure to snow hydrology and downstream water resource availability. Improved understanding of how the mosaic of post-fire gaps and forest structure may optimize snow-water storage, retention, and will facilitate policy and management decisions to mitigate the impacts of climate change on vulnerable snow-water resources.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Earth Sciences (EAR)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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Laura Lautz
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Portland State University
United States
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