How has water flow been affected by last year’s major forest fire?

Twelve months have now passed since the devastating forest fire in Västmanland County. How far has the fire affected the hydrology of the area? This is currently being investigated by the research department of the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI) in a project financed by the Swedish Research Council Formas. Data is being gathered in partnership with the Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment at SLU (the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences).

‘This is a unique opportunity to study the interplay between forest and water. The 2014 Västmanland fire affected vegetation and the ground across a very wide area and there is now an opportunity to assess how the fire and the future recovery of the landscape will affect water flow’, says Johan Strömqvist, hydrology researcher at SMHI.  

The fire-damaged area is turning green again
The fire-damaged area is turning green again; this can be seen particularly clearly where there is access to water. June 2015. Foto Peter Ragge Enlarge Image

The researchers also want to investigate the effects of the fire on hydrology in comparison with changes brought about by land use, water control or the climate.

To do this, researchers are making use of existing and newly-collected data and observations to determine and model the hydrology of the area.

Disused monitoring station to be put to use

SMHI previously had a water flow monitoring station – Skräddartorp – in Vallsjöbäcken stream at the edge of the area affected by the fire. It was used to measure the rate of flow from 1979 until 2001 when it was closed down.

Work is now starting on the task of again gathering water flow data for the area which can be used alongside the earlier quite lengthy series of measurements to compare conditions before and after the fire, as well as measure the future recovery of the vegetation in the area.

‘Despite the gap in the series of measurements, we have water flow data from the forest area before it was hit by the fire and that is going to be of value to the project’, says Johan Strömqvist.