Spatial and Temporal Changes in Aeolian Redistribution of Sediments and Nutrients Following Fire

Document Type


Publication Date



Wildfires can profoundly alter rates, magnitudes, and ecological influences of aeolian redistribution of sediments and nutrients. This study examines the influence of fire in a semi-arid ecosystem using 2 years of continuous passive dust trap data in the northern Great Basin, USA. We analyse the mass flux, organic material content, grain size distribution, and geochemistry of the collected samples to trace the fingerprint of the 2015 Soda Fire through space and time. In areas not affected by fire, dust is characterized by silt-sized median grains, a geochemical signature consistent with a playa source area, and spatially consistent but seasonally variable dust flux rates. Following fire, dust flux increases significantly within and near the burned area. At burned and topographically sheltered sites, dust deposition in the eighth month following fire was 190% higher than dust deposition 2 years post-revegetation. Topographically exposed sites recorded only modest increases in dust deposition following fire. Analysis of organic matter indicates all dust samples (both burned and unburned) contained an average of 45% organic matter compared to a watershed average of 1.6% organic matter in soils.

Geochemical and seasonal dust deposition data from 12 dust traps at a range of elevations indicate that with the removal of stabilizing vegetation after wildfire, differences in topographic position and wind direction lead to preferential redistribution of material across a burned landscape over hillslope scales (0–10 km). We posit post-fire aeolian redistribution of locally derived material to topographically controlled positions is an important control on the spatial variability of soil depth and characteristics in drylands with complex topography.