California Water Science Center

Trace Elements in Stormflow, Ash, and Burned Soil following the 2009 Station Fire in Southern California

By Carmen A. Burton, Todd M. Hoefen, Geoffrey S. Plumlee, Katherine L. Baumberger, Adam R. Backlin, Elizabeth Gallegos, Robert N. Fisher

Published: May 4, 2016

Complete Publication: https://ca.water.usgs.gov/pubs/2016/BurtonEtAl2016.pdf


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Abstract

Most research on the effects of wildfires on stream water quality has focused on suspended sediment and nutrients in streams and water bodies, and relatively little research has examined the effects of wildfires on trace elements. The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) to determine the effect of the 2009 Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest northeast of Los Angeles, CA on trace element concentrations in streams, and 2) compare trace elements in post-fire stormflow water quality to criteria for aquatic life to determine if trace elements reached concentrations that can harm aquatic life. Pre-storm and stormflow water-quality samples were collected in streams located inside and outside of the burn area of the Station Fire. Ash and burned soil samples were collected from several locations within the perimeter of the Station Fire. Filtered concentrations of Fe, Mn, and Hg and total concentrations of most trace elements in storm samples were elevated as a result of the Station Fire. In contrast, filtered concentrations of Cu, Pb, Ni, and Se and total concentrations of Cu were elevated primarily due to storms and not the Station Fire. Total concentrations of Se and Zn were elevated as a result of both storms and the Station Fire. Suspended sediment in stormflows following the Station Fire was an important transport mechanism for trace elements. Cu, Pb, and Zn primarily originate from ash in the suspended sediment. Fe primarily originates from burned soil in the suspended sediment. As, Mn, and Ni originate from both ash and burned soil. Filtered concentrations of trace elements in stormwater samples affected by the Station Fire did not reach levels that were greater than criteria established for aquatic life. Total concentrations for Fe, Pb, Ni, and Zn were detected at concentrations above criteria established for aquatic life.

Suggested Citation: Burton CA, Hoefen TM, Plumlee GS, Baumberger KL, Backlin AR, Gallegos E, et al. (2016) Trace Elements in Stormflow, Ash, and Burned Soil following the 2009 Station Fire in Southern California. PLoS ONE 11(5): e0153372. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0153372 https://ca.water.usgs.gov/pubs/2016/BurtonEtAl2016.pdf

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