Postwildfire hydrological response in an El Niño-Southern Oscillation-dominated environment

K. M. Tomkins*, G. S. Humphreys, A. F. Gero, R. A. Shakesby, S. H. Doerr, P. J. Wallbrink, W. H. Blake

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


The rainfall-runoff events following five fires that occurred within a 40-year period in eucalypt forests of the Nattai catchment, southeastern Australia, were investigated to quantify the postwildfire hydrological response and to provide context for lower than expected erosion and sediment transport rates measured after wildfires in 2001. Daily rainfall and hourly instantaneous discharge records were used to examine rainfall-runoff events in two gauged subcatchments (>100 km2) for up to 3 years after fire and compared with nonfire periods. Radar imagery, available from 2001, was used to determine the intensity and duration of rainfall events. Wildfires in the study catchment appear to have no detectable impact on surface runoff at the large catchment scale, regardless of fire severity, extent or time after fire. Instead, the magnitude of postfire runoff is related to the characteristics of rainfall after fire. Rainfall is highly variable in terms of annual totals and the number, size, and type of events. Rainfall events that cause substantial surface runoff are characterized by moderate-high intensity falls lasting one or more days (≥ 1 year average recurrence interval). These are triggered by synoptic-scale weather patterns, which do not reliably occur in the postfire window and are independent of broad-scale climate dominated by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). This study highlights the importance of considering the characteristics of rainfall, as well as local factors, in interpreting the postfire hydrological response.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberF02023
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Issue numberF2
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2008


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