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Impact of prescribed burning on blanket peat hydrology

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>08/2015
<mark>Journal</mark>Water Resources Research
Issue number8
Number of pages13
Pages (from-to)6472-6484
Publication statusPublished
Early online date21/08/15
Original languageEnglish


Fire is known to impact soil properties and hydrological flow paths. However, the impact of prescribed vegetation burning on blanket peatland hydrology is poorly understood. We studied 10 blanket peat headwater catchments. Five were subject to prescribed burning, while five were unburnt controls. Within the burnt catchments, we studied plots where the last burn occurred ∼2 (B2), 4 (B4), 7 (B7), or greater than 10 years (B10+) prior to the start of measurements. These were compared with plots at similar topographic wetness index locations in the control catchments. Plots subject to prescribed vegetation burning had significantly deeper water tables (difference in means = 5.3 cm) and greater water table variability than unburnt plots. Water table depths were significantly different between burn age classes (B2 > B4 > B7 > B10+) while B10+ water tables were not significantly different to the unburnt controls. Overland flow was less common on burnt peat than on unburnt peat, recorded in 9% and 17% of all runoff trap visits, respectively. Storm lag times and hydrograph recession limb periods were significantly greater (by ∼1 and 13 h on average, respectively) in the burnt catchments overall, but for the largest 20% of storms sampled, there was no significant difference in storm lag times between burnt and unburnt catchments. For the largest 20% of storms, the hydrograph intensity of burnt catchments was significantly greater than those of unburnt catchments (means of 4.2 × 10−5 and 3.4 × 10−5 s−1, respectively), thereby indicating a nonlinear streamflow response to prescribed burning. Together, these results from plots to whole river catchments indicate that prescribed vegetation burning has important effects on blanket peatland hydrology at a range of spatial scales.