Research and Development of a Watershed-Scale Model/Tool for Simulating the Effects of Wildfires on Mercury Contamination of Land and Water

Project ID: 7112
Principal Investigator: Jun Wang
Research Topic: Water Quality
Funded Fiscal Years: 2017, 2018 and 2019
Keywords: None

Research Question

This project hypothesizes that a decision-support model/tool can inform management to curb soil erosion in mercury-rich drainages after severe wildfires and to protect water resources. Research questions for decision-support modeling are:
1. How wild fires affect vegetation interception, soil structure, erodibility, and soil mercury content?
2. What are the relationships between burn severity, sediment erosion, mercury content, and mercury speciation in soil and receiving waters??
3. What other factors affect soil, sediment, and water mercury content and speciation post-fire, such as DOC, total organic carbon (TOC), etc.?
4. How does post-fire runoff affect soil erosion and mercury transport?
5. What are the factors that influence how long oxidized mercury persists in post-fire runoff?

Need and Benefit

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, more than eight million acres have burned in the United States by wildfires in 2015. That's an area larger than the state of Maryland. The 2015 California wildfires burned an area over three million acres. Ecosystem-based management to control the adverse impacts of very large wildfires has become a societal imperative given the wide-ranging impacts from wildfires on water supply and water quality, particularly in the western U.S.
A key impact of fires is the increase of soil erosion, which leads to increased transport of sediment, nitrogen, phosphorus and/or mercury into the downstream reservoirs during storm events. Such a storm event can severely impact the drinking-water quality, fish, and the health of wildlife and ecosystems. In particular, mercury pollution from mining has been a widespread concern in California for many years. Mercury pollution in rivers, wetlands, and estuaries is a pervasive concern in California.

Contributing Partners

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Research Products

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Last Updated: 4/4/17