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Contribution of forest fire ash and plant litter decay on stream dissolved composition in a sub-humid tropical watershed (Mule Hole, Southern India)

Abstract : The current understanding of wildfire effects on water chemistry is limited by the quantification of the elemental dissolution rates from ash and element release rate from the plant litter, as well as quantification of the specific ash contribution to stream water chemistry. The main objective of the study was to provide such knowledge through combination of experimental modelling, field data and end-member mixing analysis (EMMA) of wildfire impact on a watershed scale. The study concerns watershed effects of fire in the Indian subcontinent, a region that is typically not well represented in the fire science literature. In plant litter ash, major elements are either hosted in readily-soluble phases (K, Mg) such as salts, carbonates and oxides or in less-soluble carrier-phases (Si, Ca) such as amorphous silica, quartz and calcite. Accordingly, elemental release rates, inferred from ash leaching experiments in batch reactor, indicated that the element release into solution followed the order K > Mg > Na > Si > Ca. Experiments on plant litter leaching in mixed-flow reactor indicated two dissolution regimes: rapid, over the week and slower over the month. The mean dissolution rates at steady-state (R-ss) indicated that the release of major elements from plant litter followed the order Ca > Si > Cl > Mg > K > Na. R-ss for Si and Ca for tree leaves and herbaceous species are similar to those reported for boreal and European tree species and are higher than that from the dissolution of soil clay minerals. This identifies tropical plant litters as important source of Si and Ca for tropical surface waters. In the wildfire-impacted year 2004, the EMMA indicated that the streamflow composition (Ca, K, Mg, Na, Si, Cl) was controlled by four main sources: rainwater, throughfall, ash leaching and soil solution. The influence of the ash end-member was maximal early in the rainy season (the two first storm events) and decreased later in the rainy season, when the stream was dominated by the throughfall end-member. The contribution of plant litter decay to the streamwater composition for a year not impacted by wildfire is significant with estimated solute fluxes originating from this decay greatly exceed, for most major elements, the annual elemental dissolved fluxes at the Mule Hole watershed outlet. This highlighted the importance of solute retention and vegetation back uptake processes within the soil profile. Overall, the fire increased the mobility and export of major elements from the soils to the stream. It also shifted the vegetation-related contribution to the elemental fluxes at the watershed outlet from long-term (seasonal) to short-term (daily to monthly). (C) 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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Stephane Audry, Alisson Akerman, Jean Riotte, Priscia Oliva, Jean-Christophe Maréchal, et al.. Contribution of forest fire ash and plant litter decay on stream dissolved composition in a sub-humid tropical watershed (Mule Hole, Southern India). Chemical Geology, Elsevier, 2014, 372, pp.144-161. ⟨10.1016/j.chemgeo.2014.02.016⟩. ⟨hal-01076185⟩



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