EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Using Earth Observations to Measure Hydrological Effects of Wildfires in the Feather River Basin

Avery Walters and Venkataraman Lakshmi
Avery Walters and Venkataraman Lakshmi
  • University of Virginia, Charlottesville, United States

The Feather River Basin is home to California’s deadliest wildfire, the 2018 Camp Fire, and to the largest single fire in the state’s history, the 2021 Dixie Fire (CalFire, 2022). Each of these events took place in the last five years. In 2021 alone, the Dixie Fire and the Beckwourth Complex Fire combined to burn over 1 million acres of land in the Feather River region (FRLT, 2022). The Dixie Fire burned despite taking place within the burn scar of the 2012 Chips Fire (Graff, 2021). Such exceptional wildfire activity is a cause for further studies.

Our research proposes analyzing satellite data for the Feather River Basin to measure the hydrological effects of wildfire. This study aims to produce monthly observations of major hydrological conditions (i.e. precipitation, soil moisture, vegetation index and streamflow) over the past five to ten years. A one-kilometer sub-daily soil moisture dataset will be used to characterize soil moisture anomalies. Additionally, visual as well as infrared imagery will be collected from commercial high-spatial resolution satellite sensors, which have revisit times of about one hour and resolutions of about one meter. This should help characterize fire extent as well as understand the effects of fire on soil moisture. In situ measurements, when available, will be used to validate satellite-derived observations. 

The Feather River Basin is a high-profile area of the United States with 27 million people dependent upon it for water. The Feather River is the Sierra Nevada’s largest and northernmost river, and the nearby Oroville Dam is America’s tallest dam. Furthermore, the basin is home to continental America’s largest high-alpine meadow– also an important stopover site for migratory birds (American Rivers, 2022). California’s dry climate, combined with shortened snowmelt periods, steep mountain terrain and strong winds, already make it a hotbed for wildfire. A warming climate threatens this landscape with even higher likelihoods of extreme wildfire events. The results of this study will help understand how increasingly common and severe wildfires affect watershed hydrology.

How to cite: Walters, A. and Lakshmi, V.: Using Earth Observations to Measure Hydrological Effects of Wildfires in the Feather River Basin, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-16966,, 2023.