Magnetic enhancement in wildfire-affected soil and its potential for sediment-source ascription

W. H. Blake, P. J. Wallbrink, S. H. Doerr, R. A. Shakesby, G. S. Humphreys

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    Intense rainfall following wildfire can cause substantial soil and sediment redistribution. With concern for the increasing magnitude and frequency of wildfire events, research needs to focus on hydrogeomorphological impacts of fire, particularly downstream fluxes of sediment and nutrients. Here, we investigate variation in magnetic enhancement of soil by fire in burnt eucalypt forest slopes to explore its potential as a post-fire sediment tracer. Low-frequency magnetic susceptibility values (χlf) of <10 µm material sourced from burnt slopes (c. 8·0–10·4 × 10−6 m3 kg−1) are an order of magnitude greater than those of <10 µm material derived from long-unburnt areas (0·8 × 10−6 m3 kg−1). Susceptibility of anhysteretic remanent magnetization (χARM) and saturation isothermal remanent magnetization (SIRM) values are similarly enhanced. Signatures are strongly influenced by soil and sediment particle size and storage of previously burnt material in footslope areas. Whilst observations indicate that signatures based on magnetic enhancement show promise for post-fire sediment tracing, problems arise with the lack of dimensionality in such data. Magnetic grain size indicators χfd%, χARM/SIRM and χfd/ARM offer further discrimination of source material but cannot be included in numerical unmixing models owing to non-linear additivity. This leads to complications in quantitatively ascribing downstream sediment to source areas of contrasting burn severity since sources represent numerical multiples of each other, indicating the need to involve additional indicators, such as geochemical evidence, to allow a more robust discrimination.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)249-264
    Number of pages16
    JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2006


    • wildfire
    • soil erosion
    • sediment
    • tracing
    • mineral magnetics


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