Forest fire effects on stream water quality at continental scales: a meta-analysis
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Tyler B. Hampton; Simon Lin; Nandita B. Basu
Publication Year: 2022

Cataloging Information

  • DOC - dissolved organic carbon
  • literature review
  • meta-analysis
  • N - nitrogen
  • nutrient ratios
  • P - phosphorus
  • sediments
  • water quality
  • water treatment
  • wildfires
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: January 19, 2023
FRAMES Record Number: 67349


Forested watersheds supply over two thirds of the world's drinking water. The last decade has seen an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires that is threatening these source watersheds, and necessitating more expensive water treatment to address degrading water quality. Given increasing wildfire frequency in a changing climate, it is important to understand the magnitude of water quality impacts following fire. Here, we conducted a meta-analysis to explore post-fire changes in the concentrations of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) species, dissolved organic carbon, and total suspended sediments in 121 sites around the world. Changes were documented over each study's respective duration, which for 90% of sites was five years or fewer. We find concurrent increases in C, N and P species, highlighting a tight coupling between biogeochemical cycles in post-fire landscapes. We find that fire alters N and P speciation, with median increases of 40%-60% in the proportion of soluble inorganic N and P relative to total N and P. We also found that fire decreases C:N and C:P ratios, with median decreases ranging from 60% to 70%. Finally we observe a 'hockey stick'-like response in changes to the concentration distribution, where increases in the highest concentration ranges are much greater than increases at lower concentrations. Our study documents strong heterogeneity in responses of water quality to wildfire that have been unreported so far in the literature.

Online Link(s):
Hampton, Tyler B.; Lin, Simon; Basu, Nandita B. 2022. Forest fire effects on stream water quality at continental scales: a meta-analysis. Environmental Research Letters 17(6):064003.