Post-wildfire Wind Erosion In and Around the Idaho National Laboratory

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

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
  • Amber N. Hoover, Technician, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, Idaho
  • Jeremy P. Shive, GIS/Remote Sensing Analyst, Environmental Surveillance, Education, and Research Program, S.M. Stoller Corporation, Idaho Falls, ID
  • Mike Griffel, student, Idaho State University, Idaho Falls, ID
  • Natalie Wagenbrenner, Engineer, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Moscow, Idaho
  • Brian Lamb, Ph.D., Washington State University, Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, Pullman, Washington
  • Peter Robichaud, Ph.D., U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Moscow, Idaho

    Funding Sources

    • U.S. Department of Defense
    • Bureau of Land Management
    • US Geological Survey
    • USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station

    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 U.S.), dunefields, and croplands, and some but not all findings are transferable to the cold desert environments such as where the INL Site lies.

    Objectives: 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 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 2012:

      In 2012, we continued to evaluate the large and complex array of remotely sensed and ground-based data we collected from 2010 through 2011 on the very high levels of wind erosion on the 2010 Jefferson Fire, and on the 2010 Middle Butte Fire. These analyses will help guide development of standardized protocols for monitoring erosion, which is increasingly a need on the Snake River Plain.

      Jefferson Fire, example of preliminary results:
      Adding to analyses conducted in prior years, we made evaluations of different time frames and calculation methods for assessing the amount of erosion occurring after the Jefferson wildfire, and the critical threshold windspeed. Our preliminary results suggest different threshold windspeed and duration of soil movement events for PM10 dust well above ground (2-5 m) compared to saltation of larger particles near ground (Table 1). Threshold windspeeds appear to have increased substantially over time since burning.

      Table 1. Comparison of different methods for evaluating threshold windspeeds for erosion (windspeed required to move soil) and erosion events, in the first few months after July wildfire (2010 Jefferson Fire, 108K acres; Aug to mid-Nov 2010), and after the first winter but prior to the first bit of vegetation recovery (Apr through Jun 2011). Erosion was measured as saltation (bouncing soil particles within a few cm of the soil surface) by a “Sensit” instrument along with windspeeds with cup anemometers, and PM10 was measured with a Met-One (E-sampler) PM10 (particles < 10 micron) detector, and friction velocity (U*) with sonic anemometers and eddy covariance calculations. The Gausian method relates saltation or PM10 activity to a frequency distribution of windspeeds within 5-min periods, whereas the “instantaneous” method is simply finding the windspeed at which saltation or PM10 emissions occur. (Unpublished data of MJ Germino, in preparation for publication.) Wildfire Erosion

      This information is preliminary and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information is provided on the condition that neither the U.S. Geological Survey nor the U.S. Government may be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.

      Plans for Continuation: Field research will continue into the foreseeable future.

      Publications, Theses, Reports:
      • Wagenbrenne, N., M. Germino, B. Lamb, P. Robichaud, R. Foltz. 2013. Wind erosion from a sagebrush steppe burned by wildfire: Measurements of PM10 and horizontal sediment flux. Aeolian Research.
      • Sankey, J., M. Germino, T. Sankey, A. Hoover. 2012. Fire effects on the spatial patterning of soil properties in sagebrush steppe, USA: Meta-analysis. International Journal of Wildland Fire 21:545 – 556.
      • Sankey, J., M. Germino, N. Glenn, S. Benner. 2012. Bioavailable nutrients transported by wind in an eroding cold desert. Aeolian Research 17-27.
      • Sankey, J., M. Germino, N. Glenn. 2012. Dust supply varies with sagebrush microsites and time since burning in experimental erosion events. Journal of Geophysical Research- Biogeosciences 117:1-13.
      • Hoover, A, M. Germino. 2012. Post-fire, Resource-Island Effects on Bromus tectorum and Pseudoroegneria spicata: Evidence From a Common-Garden Study. Rangeland Ecology and Management 65:160-170.

      • Germino, M. 2013. Post-fire wind erosion and air quality. EPA Region 10, Air Quality Conference, Ellensburg WA, March 13
      • Germino, M. 2013. Post-fire wind erosion: risks and resilience. National Fire Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation Program, Boise, ID, Feb 26
      • Germino, M. 2013. Dust, an emerging problem in the Great Basin: insights from 2012. Great Basin Consortium, 2nd annual meeting, Boise, ID, January 14
      • Germino, M. 2012. Weather and post-fire wind erosion Climate Forum, Great Basin. Desert Research Institute, Reno NV, October 17 Germino, M. 2012. Post-fire wind erosion. JFSP SageSTEP/Great Basin Soc. Ecological Restoration Field Day, Roberts, ID, June 7 Germino, M., N. Glenn, J. Sankey. Ecological biogeomorphology: meta-analysis of post-fire wind erosion in sagebrush steppe. Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting, Portland, Aug 5.