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Sass, O., Haas, F., Schimmer, C., Heel, M., Bremer, M., Stöger, F. and Wetzel, K.‐F. 2012. Impact of forest fires on geomorphic processes in the Tyrolean Limestone Alps. Geografiska Annaler: Series A, Physical Geography, 94, 117–133. doi:10.1111/j.1468‐0459.2012.00452.x

We investigated geomorphic processes on two slopes (Arnspitze and Bettelwurf) burned by wildfire in the region north of Innsbruck. Both burned in 1946 and both are still characterized by severe vegetation destruction. Sparsely grass‐covered rock and debris slopes have developed replacing the former dwarf pine (Pinus mugo) shrub stands.

Our aim was to establish disturbed and undisturbed erosion rates and to decide whether recent debris flows can be assigned to these historical wildfires or not. We measured fluvial erosion by means of collectors, estimated the amount of post‐fire erosion from stratigraphic exposures in the adjacent talus, modelled bedload discharge with a statistical model developed in a nearby study area and quantified recent debris flow activity by combining airborne and terrestrial laser scans.

We measured erosion rates of 3–30 g m−2 a−1, which is roughly ten times higher than the undisturbed sediment yields. Slopewash was higher than linear fluvial transport in the four years of our investigation. Surplus material was removed from the channels by avalanches and debris flows; both being more important for the sediment budget than fluvial action. The modelling approach allowed measured sediment yields to be transferred to larger slope parts and to calculate scenarios of pre‐fire conditions. The concordance of measured and modelled yields was reasonably good; deviations may be explained by differing amounts of precipitation. Our results support the impression that current debris flow activity at the Bettelwurf was enhanced by the aftermath of the 1946 wildfire.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Physical Geography, Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Germany 2: Institute of Geography, University of Augsburg, Germany 3: Institute of Geography, University of Innsbruck, Austria

Publication date: March 1, 2012

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