Post-wildfire Wind Erosion In and Around the INL Site (2013)

Post-wildfire Wind Erosion In and Around the Idaho National Laboratory Site (2013)


Investigators and Affiliations

  • Matthew J. Germino, Ph.D., Research Ecologist, United States Geological Survey, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Boise Idaho


  • Nancy F. Glenn, Ph.D., Professor, Geosciences Department, Idaho State University, Boise, Idaho
  • Joel Sankey, Ph.D., Research Scientist, United States Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Arizona

Funding Sources

  • USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture, Rangelands Program


Background: Wind erosion following large wildfires on and around the INL Site is a recurrent threat to human health and safety, DOE operations and trafficability, and ecological and hydrological condition of the INL Site and down-wind landscapes. Causes and consequences of wind erosion are mainly known from warm deserts (e.g. Southwest US), dunefields, and croplands, and some but not all findings are transferable to the cold desert environments such as where the INL Site lies.


This is a large and multifaceted research program with the overall goal being to determine and describe wildland fire effects on wind erosion in rangelands on and around the INL Site. The specific objectives include the following:

  • To quantify the role of wind erosion and dust emissions in post-fire environments as well as the associated potential impacts on site fertility, invasibility by exotic grasses, micro-scale geomorphology, and regional air quality.
  • To determine if the aerodynamic parameters friction velocity, roughness length, and displacement height change through time following wildland fire, and to identify how these parameters relate to vegetation recovery after fire.
  • To determine the effects of repeat burning on levels of wind erosion, for sites that reburn a few years following prior fires.
  • To determine how weather and surface-soil moisture variations relate to (i.e. control) erodibility over the months when vegetation has yet to recover on the site.
  • To link monitoring of near-soil saltation activity to dust emission and model regional dust plumes culminating from INL Site fires, using a combination of ground-level, air quality, and remotely sensed approaches.

Accomplishments through 2013:

We continued to analyze the robust dataset we have on saltation and sediment flux from the 2010 Jefferson Fire (data through summer 2011) and visited the site to assess vegetation recovery. We have begun preparation of a field guide to post-fire wind erosion for managers.

Our efforts have substantiated patterns reported in our previous report (for 2012) and have newly revealed complex patterns of erosion as a function of rainfall. Whereas rain is typically viewed as stabilizing soils that are otherwise at risk of wind erosion, our preliminary data suggest that this generalization does not hold in the year of erosion we observed after the Jefferson Fire. Furthermore, we made observations of sustained erosion in the very dry summer 2013 on fires burned in 2011 and 2012, which suggests that our previous findings that initial vegetation recovery by the June or July following fire stabilizes the burn site may not apply to all wildfires.

Plans for Continuation:
In 2014, we do not plan to collect more field data unless new fire and erosion conditions arise. Our efforts will continue to focus on using existing data for modeling, analysis, and publication.

Publications, Theses, Reports:

  • Germino, M. J., Sankey J., Glenn N. 2013. Nutrient fluxes and their relationship to ecosystem changes associated with post-fire wind erosion and dust emission. 12th Biennial Conference of Science and Management on the Colorado Plateau. Flagstaff AZ. Sept. 16-19.
  • Germino, M. J. 2013. Post-fire wind erosion. EPA Region 10, Air Quality Conference and Workshop on Wildfire Impacts, Ellensburg, WA, March 13 (>100 regulators and stakeholders including EPA admin). (30 min presentation followed by Q/A, at request of EPA).
  • Germino, M. J. 2013. Post-fire wind erosion. National Fire Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation Program Annual meeting of state leads and BLM Assistant Director, Boise ID, Feb. 26 (30 min presentation followed by Q/A, at request of DOI-ESR program).
  • Germino, M. J, Glenn N.F., Hardy R., Miller S. 2013. “Dust, an emerging problem in the Great Basin: insights from 2013. Great Basin Consortium, 2nd annual meeting. Boise ID Jan. 14-16, 2013.