The effect of a wildfire on stream water quality and catchment water yield in a tropical savanna excluded from fire for 10 years (Kakadu National Park, North Australia)

The effect of a wildfire on stream water quality and catchment water yield in a tropical savanna excluded from fire for 10 years (Kakadu National Park, North Australia)

Title
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsTownsend, SA, Douglas, MM
JournalWater Research
Volume38
Issue13
Pagination3051 - 3058
Date Published01/01/04
ISSN0043-1354
Keywordserosion, hydrology, loads, riparian vegetation, riparian zones, savanna, vegetation cover
Abstract

The wet/dry tropics of the Australian savannas are particularly prone to fire due to the highly seasonal rainfall and accumulation of grassy fuels. The effect of an early dry season wildfire (May, 1998) on the water quality of a seasonally flowing stream (December-June) was examined for a lowland savanna forest in Kakadu National Park (northern Australia) which had remained unburnt for 10 years. The water quality variables assessed were: total and volatile suspended sediment, phosphorus, nitrogen, iron and manganese. Compared to three years of pre-fire water quality data and 5 years of stream flow data, there was no detectable impact of the wildfire on the volume of stream flow, mean concentrations and the total mass transported by the stream for each water quality variable, except possibly nitrogen. The limited effect on water quality is attributed primarily to the timing of the wildfire and the low intensity relative to fires later in the dry season (September). The retention of canopy cover and the accumulation of leaf litter following the wildfire, and the catchment's gently undulating terrain all contributed to the negligible impact on water quality. Early dry season fires appear to be a viable management option for reducing accumulated fuel loads and hence reducing the risk of destructive wildfires later in the dry season.

URLhttp://espace.cdu.edu.au/view/cdu:1488

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