Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2013NM160B

The transport and accumulation of pyrogenic black carbon in fire-prone watersheds and implications for water quality

Institute: New Mexico
Year Established: 2013 Start Date: 2013-06-01 End Date: 2014-05-31
Total Federal Funds: $20,497 Total Non-Federal Funds: $42,426

Principal Investigators: Daniel Cadol, Michael Heagy, Fred Phillips

Abstract: Wildland fires produce black carbon (BC) in the form of soot and char generated by incomplete combustion of organic matter and post-fire debris flow and hyper-concentrated flow events transport and redeposit it throughout the watershed. Black carbon has the potential for both negative impacts on water quality, for example fouling of drinking water supplies and generation of anoxic conditions, and positive impacts, such as sequestration of hydrophobic contaminants through sorption. The proposed work will identify the relative importance of mass movement and overland or river flow in transporting pyrogenic BC through recently burned semi-arid watersheds by identifying the dominant depositional zones – floodplains, river banks, or depositional debris fans. The potential for long distance transport of BC debris to downstream reservoirs represents a threat to drinking water and irrigation supplies that is highly dependent on transport mechanism. The work will identify geomorphic contexts where BC accumulates and quantify the concentration of BC in depositional deposits. Depositional zone sediment samples will be tested for heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which may be produced or released during wildfire. And the potential for these natural BC deposits to sequester contaminants in the form of several representative PAHs will be tested