Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 17, Issue 11, pp 2582–2595 | Cite as

Source ascription in bed sediments of a Mediterranean temporary stream after the first post-fire flush

  • Julián García-Comendador
  • Josep Fortesa
  • Aleix Calsamiglia
  • Francesca Garcias
  • Joan Estrany
Transfer of Sediments and Contaminants in Catchments and Rivers



First flushes can be crucial to sediment transport in fluvial systems of drylands, as temporary streams are a characteristic feature of Mediterranean basins. After a wildfire, storm flows may enhance runoff delivery to channels, so increasing the first-flush effect. 137Cs and 210Pbex were used as tracers for recognizing the first post-fire flush effect on the source ascription of bed sediments temporarily stored in a Mediterranean temporary stream severely affected by a wildfire.

Materials and methods

Thirty sediment source samples were collected along one of the tributaries of a catchment (4.8 km2) located in Mallorca during a field campaign some weeks after the wildfire. The sample collection took into account effects of the wildfire and distinguished between soil surface and channel bank. To measure the source contribution temporarily stored with the bed sediment, five sediment samples—deposited during the first storm, occurring 3 months after the wildfire—were collected from the bed of the main channel. The 137Cs and 210Pbex concentrations were measured by gamma spectrometry. Then, a linear mixing model was used to establish the contribution of each source type to the bed sediments along the main stream.

Results and discussion

First post-fire flush effect was generated by a torrential event with a suspended sediment concentration peak of 33,618 mg L−1, although transmission losses under a very low runoff coefficient (1%) promoted sediment deposition. Significant differences were observed in fallout radionuclide concentrations between burned surface soil and burned channel bank samples (p < 0.05), as well as between burned and unburned sources in the downstream part of the catchment (p < 0.01). The radioactivity concentrations in bed sediment samples were statistically similar (p > 0.05). Source ascription in bed sediments upstream shows that 67% was generated from burned hillslopes, reaching 75% in the downstream part, because downstream propagation of the sediment derived from the burned area.


Bed sediments were mostly generated on burned surface soils because of the fire’s effect on soil and sediment availability, high-intensity rainfall, and the limited contribution of channel banks, because these are fixed by dry-stone walls. This hydro-sedimentary response indicates an association between these factors driving erosion and sediment delivery, generating effective slope-to-channel sediment connectivity. The integration of the short-term response with the medium- and long-term analysis will allow for the analysis of the evolution of catchment sediment sources in future studies, determining if fire modifies the catchment sensitivity to that specific disturbance.


Fallout radionuclides Fingerprinting technique First-flush sediment sources Mediterranean fluvial systems Wildfire disturbances 



This research was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (CGL2012-32446). Specifically, the study was supported by the Balearic Forest Service (Department of Environment, Agriculture and Fishery of the Balearic Autonomous Government) and by the “la Caixa” Foundation. Julián García-Comendador is in receipt of a postgraduate contract (FPU15/05239) funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Culture. Josep Fortesa has a contract funded by the European Commission-Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations. Aleix Calsamiglia acknowledges the support from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness through a postgraduate contract EEBB-I-15-10280. Meteorological data were provided by the Spanish Meteorological Agency (AEMET). The authors are grateful to the Environmental Radioactivity Laboratory at the University of the Balearic Islands for determining fallout radionuclide concentrations and Prof. Francesc Gallart at the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research (IDAEA-CSIC) for determining particle size. Thanks must also be expressed to Joan Bauzà Llinàs for his assistance during the fieldwork.

Supplementary material

11368_2017_1806_Fig5_ESM.jpg (25 kb)

(JPEG 24 kb)

11368_2017_1806_MOESM1_ESM.eps (322 kb)
High Resolution Image (EPS 322 kb)
11368_2017_1806_Fig6_ESM.gif (3.8 mb)

(GIF 3846 kb)

11368_2017_1806_MOESM2_ESM.tif (4.9 mb)
High Resolution Image (TIFF 4995 kb)


  1. Bauzà J (2014) Els grans incendis forestals a les Illes Balears: una resposta des de la teledetecció. (Bachelor thesis). Universitat de les Illes Balears, Spain, p 37Google Scholar
  2. Beven KJ, Binley AM (1992) The future of distributed models: calibration and predictive uncertainty. Hydrol Process 6:279–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Blake WH, Wallbrink PJ, Wilkinson SN, Humphreys GS, Doerr SH, Shakesby RA, Tomkins KM (2009) Deriving hillslope sediment budgets in wildfire–affected forests using fallout radionuclide tracers. Geomorphology 104:105–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bochet E, Poesen J, Rubio JL (2002) Influence of plant morphology on splash erosion in a Mediterranean matorral. Z Geomorphol 46:223–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown LC, Foster GR (1987) Storm erosivity using idealized intensity distributions. T ASAE 30:379–386CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brunsden D (2001) A critical assessment of the sensitivity concept in geomorphology. Catena 42(2):99–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bull LJ, Kirkby MJ (2002) Dryland rivers: hydrology and geomorphology of semi-arid channels. John Wiley and Sons, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Calsamiglia A, Fortesa J, García-Comendador J, Estrany J (2016) Respuesta hidro-sedimentaria en dos cuencas mediterráneas representativas afectadas por el cambio global. Cuaternario & Geomorfología 30(1–2):87–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Candela A, Aronica G, Santoro M (2005) Effects of forest fires on flood frequency curves in a Mediterranean catchment. Hydrolog Sci J 50:193–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cerdà A, Doerr SH (2005) Long-term soil erosion changes under simulated rainfall for different vegetation types following a wildfire in eastern Spain. Int J Wildland Fire 14:423–437CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Collins AL, Walling DE, Leeks GJL (1997) Sediment sources in the Upper Severn catchment: a fingerprinting approach. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 1:509–522CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Collins AL, Pulley S, Foster IDL, Gellis A, Porto P, Horowitz AJ (2017) Sediment source fingerprinting as an aid to catchment management: a review of the current state of knowledge and a methodological decision-tree for end-users. J Environ Manag 194:86–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Du P, Walling DE (2017) Fingerprinting surficial sediment sources: exploring some potential problems associated with the spatial variability of source material properties. J Environ Manag 194:4–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Eaton BC, Moore RD, Giles TR (2010) Forest fire, bank strength and channel instability: the ‘unusual’ response of Fishtrap Creek, British Columbia. Earth Surf Proc Land 35(10):1167–1183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Escuín S, Navarro R, Fernández P (2008) Fire severity assessment by using NBR (Normalized Burn Ratio) and NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) derived from LANDSAT TM/ETM images. Int J Remote Sens 29:1053–1073CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Estrany J (2009) Hydrology and sediment transport in the agricultural Na Borges River basin (Mallorca, Balearic Islands). A Mediterranean groundwater-dominated river under traditional soil conservation practices. PhD thesis unpublished, Universitat de les Illes Balears, SpainGoogle Scholar
  17. Estrany J, Grimalt M (2014) Catchment controls and human disturbances on the geomorphology of small Mediterranean estuarine systems. Estuar Coast Shelf S 150:230–241CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Estrany J, Garcia C, Walling DE, Ferrer L (2011) Fluxes and storage of fine-grained sediment and associated contaminants in the Na Borges River (Mallorca, Spain). Catena 87:291–305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Estrany J, López-Tarazón JA, Smith HG (2016) Wildfire effects on suspended sediment delivery quantified using fallout radionuclide tracers in a Mediterranean catchment. Land Degrad Dev 27:1501–1512CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fryirs K (2013) (Dis) Connectivity in catchment sediment cascades: a fresh look at the sediment delivery problem. Earth Surf Proc Land 38(1):30–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. García-Comendador J, Fortesa J, Calsamiglia A, Calvo-Cases A, Estrany J (2017) Post-fire hydrological response and suspended sediment transport of a terraced Mediterranean catchment. Earth Surf Proc Land.
  22. Guijarro JA (1986) Contribución a la Bioclimatología de Baleares. (PhD thesis summary). Universitat de les Illes Balears, Spain, p 36Google Scholar
  23. Haddadchi A, Ryder DS, Evrard O, Olley J (2013) Sediment fingerprinting in fluvial systems: review of tracers, sediment sources and mixing models. Int J Sediment Res 28:560–578CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Haddadchi A, Olley J, Laceby P (2014) Accuracy of mixing models in predicting sediment source contributions. Sci Total Environ 497:139–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. He Q, Walling DE (1996) Interpreting particle size effects in the adsorption of 137Cs and unsupported 210Pb by mineral soils and sediments. J Environ Radioactiv 30:117–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Horowitz AJ (1991) A Primer in Sediment-Trace Element Chemistry (second ed.). Lewis Publishers, Chelsea, MIGoogle Scholar
  27. Horowitz A, Elrick KA, Smith JJ (2007) Measuring the fluxes of suspended sediment, trace elements and nutrients for the city of Atlanta, USA: insights on the global water quality impacts of increasing urbanization. In: Webb BW, De Boer D (eds) Water Quality and Sediment Behaviour of the Future Predictions for the 21st Century, vol 314. IAHS Publ IAHS Press, Wallingford, pp 57–70Google Scholar
  28. Joerin C, Beven KJ, Iorgulescu I, Musy A (2002) Uncertainty in hydrograph separation based on geochemical mixing models. J Hydrol 255:90–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Johansen MP, Hakonson TE, Whicker FW, Breshears DD (2003) Pulsed redistribution of a contaminant following forest fire. J Environ Qual 32(6):2150–2157Google Scholar
  30. Laceby JP, Olley J (2015) An examination of geochemical modelling approaches to tracing sediment sources incorporating distribution mixing and elemental correlations. Hydrol Process 29:1669–1685CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Laceby JP, Evrard O, Smith HG, Blake WH, Olley JM, Minella JP, Owens PN (2017) The challenges and opportunities of addressing particle size effects in sediment source fingerprinting: a review. Earth-Sci Rev 169:85–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lane PN, Sheridan GJ, Noske PJ (2006) Changes in sediment loads and discharge from small mountain catchments following wildfire in south eastern Australia. J Hydrol 331:495–510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Manjoro M, Rowntree K, Kakembo V, Foster I, Collins AL (2017) Use of sediment source fingerprinting to assess the role of subsurface erosion in the supply of fine sediment in a degraded catchment in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. J Environ Manag 194:27–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Martínez-Carreras N, Gallart F, Iffly JF, Pfister L, Walling DE, Krein A (2008) Uncertainty assessment in suspended sediment fingerprinting based on tracer mixing models: a case study from Luxembourg. In: Sediment dynamics in changing environments. (Proceedings of a symposium held in Christchurch, New Zealand, December 2008), vol 325. IAHS Publ. 325, IAHS Press, Wallingford, pp 94–105Google Scholar
  35. Moody JA, Martin DA (2001) Initial hydrologic and geomorphic response following a wildfire in the Colorado Front Range. Earth Surf Proc Land 26:1049–1070CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Moody JA, Martin DA (2009) Forest fire effects on geomorphic processes. In: Cerdà A, Robichaud PR (eds) Fire effects on soils and restoration strategies. Science Publishers, New Hampshire, pp 41–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Moody JA, Shakesby RA, Robichaud PR, Cannon SH, Martin DA (2013) Current research issues related to post-wildfire runoff and erosion processes. Earth-Sci Rev 122:10–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Motha JA, Wallbrink PJ, Hairsine PB, Grayson RB (2003) Determining the sources of suspended sediment in a forested catchment in southeastern Australia. Water Resour Res 39(3):1056CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Obermann M, Rosenwinkel KH, Tournoud MG (2009) Investigation of first flushes in a medium-sized Mediterranean catchment. J Hydrol 373:405–415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Owens PN, Blake WH, Giles TR, Williams ND (2012) Determining the effects of wildfire on sediment sources using 137Cs and unsupported 210Pb: the role of landscape disturbances and driving forces. J Soils Sediments 12:982–994CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Owens PN, Blake WH, Gaspar L, Gateuille D, Koiter AJ, Lobb DA, Petticrew EL, Reiffarth DG, Smith HG, Woodward JC (2016) Fingerprinting and tracing the sources of soils and sediments: earth and ocean science, geoarchaeological, forensic, and human health applications. Earth-Sci Rev 162:1–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Palazón L, Navas A (2017) Variability in source sediment contributions by applying different statistic test for a Pyrenean catchment. J Environ Manag 194:42–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Palazón L, Latorre B, Gaspar L, Blake WH, Smith HG, Navas A (2015) Comparing catchment sediment fingerprinting procedures using an auto-evaluation approach with virtual sample mixtures. Sci Total Environ 532:456–466Google Scholar
  44. Poulenard J, Legout C, Némery J, Bramorski J, Navratil O, Douchin A, Fanget B, Perrette Y, Evard O, Esteves M (2012) Tracing sediment sources during floods using Diffuse Reflectance Infrared Fourier Transform Spectrometry (DRIFTS): a case study in a highly erosive mountainous catchment (southern French alps). J Hydrol 414-415:452–462CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Prosser IP, Williams L (1998) The effect of wildfire on runoff and erosion in native eucalyptus forest. Hydrol Process 12:251–265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pulley S, Foster I, Antunes P (2015) The application of sediment fingerprinting to floodplain and lake sediment cores: assumptions and uncertainties evaluated through case studies in the Nene Basin, UK. J Soils Sediments 15:2132–2154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rawlins BG, Turner G, Mounteney I, Wildman G (2010) Estimating specific surface area of fine stream bed sediments from geochemistry. Appl Geochem 25:1291–1300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Romero R, Ramis C, Homar V (2014) On the severe convective storm of 29th October 2013 in the Balearic Islands: observational and numerical study. Q J Roy Meteor Soc 141:1208–1222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Scott DF, Versfeld DB, Lesch W (1998) Erosion and sediment yield in relation to afforestation and fire in the mountains of the Western Cape Province, South Africa. S Afr Geogr J 80:52–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Shakesby RA (2011) Post-wildfire soil erosion in the Mediterranean: review and future research directions. Earth-Sci Rev 105:71–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Shakesby RA, Doerr SH (2006) Wildfire as a hydrological and geomorphological agent. Earth-Sci Rev 74:269–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Smith HG, Blake WH (2014) Sediment fingerprinting in agricultural catchments: a critical re-examination of source discrimination and data corrections. Geomorphology 204:177–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Smith HG, Sheridan GJ, Lane PN, Nyman P, Haydon S (2011a) Wildfire effects on water quality in forest catchments: a review with implications for water supply. J Hydrol 396:170–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Smith HG, Sheridan GJ, Lane PNJ, Noske PJ, Heijnis H (2011b) Changes to sediment sources following wildfire in a forested upland catchment, southeastern Australia. Hydrol Process 25:2878–2889CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Smith HG, Blake WH, Owens PN (2013) Discriminating fine sediment sources and the application of sediment tracers in burned catchments: a review. Hydrol Process 27:943–958. doi: 10.1002/hyp.9537 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Stone M, Collins AL, Silins U, Emelko MB, Zhang YS (2014) The use of composite fingerprints to quantify sediment sources in a wildfire impacted landscape, Alberta, Canada. Sci Total Environ 473–474:642–650CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sumner G, Ramis C, Guijarro JA (1993) The spatial organization of daily rainfall over Mallorca, Spain. Int J Climatol 13:89–109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Thompson CJ, Fryirs K, Croke J (2015) The disconnected sediment conveyor belt: patterns of longitudinal and lateral erosion and deposition during a catastrophic flood in the Lockyer Valley, south East Queensland, Australia. River Res Applic 32:540–551CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Úbeda X, Outeiro L (2009) Physical and chemical effects of fire on soil. In: Cerdà A, Robichaud PR (eds) Fire effects on soils and restoration strategies. Science Publishers, New Hampshire, pp 105–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Walden J, Slattery MC, Burt TP (1997) Use of mineral magnetic measurements to fingerprint suspended sediment sources: approaches and techniques for data analysis. J Hydrol 202:353–372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Walling DE (2013) The evolution of sediment source fingerprinting investigations in fluvial systems. J Soils Sediments 13:1658–1675CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Walling DE, Owens PN, Leeks GJL (1998) The role of channel and floodplain storage in the suspended sediment budget of the River Ouse, Yorkshire, UK. Geomorphology 22:225–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Wilkinson SN, Wallbrink PJ, Hancock GJ, Blake WH, Shakesby RA, Doerr SH (2009) Fallout radionuclide tracers identify a switch in sediment sources and transport-limited sediment yield following wildfire in a eucalypt forest. Geomorphology 110:140–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Zhang XJ, Zhang GH, Liu BL, Liu B (2016) Using cesium-137 to quantify sediment source contribution and uncertainty in a small watershed. Catena 140:116–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mediterranean Ecogeomorphological and Hydrological Connectivity Research Team, Department of GeographyUniversity of the Balearic IslandsMallorcaSpain
  2. 2.Institute of Agro-Environmental and Water Economy Research –INAGEAUniversity of the Balearic IslandsMallorcaSpain
  3. 3.Department of PhysicsUniversity of the Balearic IslandsMallorcaSpain

Personalised recommendations