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Experimental and Modeling Study of Forest Fire Effect on Soil Thermal Conductivity

SMITS, Kathleen M., KIRBY, Elizabeth, MASSMAN, William J., BAGGETT, Larry Scott
Pedosphere 2016 v.26 no.4 pp. 462-473
forest fires, forests, heat, land management, long term effects, models, soil, soil sampling, thermal conductivity, Colorado
An understanding of soil thermal conductivity after a wildfire or controlled burn is important to land management and post-fire recovery efforts. Although soil thermal conductivity has been well studied for non-fire heated soils, comprehensive data that evaluate the long-term effect of extreme heating from a fire on the soil thermal conductivity are limited. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the long-term impact of fire on the effective thermal conductivity of soils by directly comparing fire-heated and no-fire control soils through a series of laboratory studies. The thermal conductivity was measured for ten soil samples from two sites within the Manitou Experimental Forest, Colorado, USA, for a range of water contents from saturation to the residual degree of saturation. The thermal conductivity measured was compared with independent estimates made using three empirical models from literature, including the Campbell et al. (1994), Côté and Konrad (2005), and Massman et al. (2008) models. Results demonstrate that for the test soils studied, the thermal conductivity of the fire-heated soils was slightly lower than that of the control soils for all observed water contents. Modeling results show that the Campbell et al. (1994) model gave the best agreement over the full range of water contents when proper fitting parameters were employed. Further studies are needed to evaluate the significance of including the influence of fire burn on the thermal properties of soils in modeling studies.