EGU24-6522, updated on 08 Mar 2024
EGU General Assembly 2024
© Author(s) 2024. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

On the impact of timber harvesting on soil water retention and surface runoff

Max Behringer1, Christian Scheidl2, Gerhard Markart3, Gertraud Meißl4, Marcus Froemel2, Lisa Gasser1, Julian Grünberg5, Christoph Haas6, Armin Hofbauer7, Barbara Kitzler7, Martin Kühmaier5, Nikolaus Nemestothy6, Boris Rewald8, Alexandra Wieshaider9, and Klaus Katzensteiner1
Max Behringer et al.
  • 1University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU), Institute of Forest Ecology, Department of Forest- and Soil Sciences, Austria (
  • 2University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) Vienna, Institute of Mountain Risk Engineering, Vienna, Austria
  • 3Austrian Research Centre for Forests, Department of Natural Hazards, Vienna, Austria
  • 4University of Innsbruck, Department of Geography, Innsbruck, Austria
  • 5University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), Institute of Forest Engineering, Vienna, Austria
  • 6Austrian Research Centre for Forests, Department of Forest Engineering, Traunkirchen, Austria
  • 7Federal Research and Training Centre for Forests (BFW), Soil ecology, Wien, Austria
  • 8Mendel University in Brno, Faculty of Forestry and Wood Technology, Forest Ecosystem Research Group
  • 9Austrian Federal Forests, Purkersdorf, Austria

Structural properties of undisturbed soils are critical for water retention and the reduction of peak flows after heavy rainfall events. Forest soils commonly show high infiltration rates that can be attributed to a high organic content and the formation of larger pores through biological activity. Though soil disturbances, especially soil compaction, due to timber logging can be considered a rare event, the impacts may be long lasting. The productive, often fine textured soils of the Alpine Flysch belt are particularly susceptible to compaction, posing a challenge for timber harvesting.

In a controlled experiment in the Flysch zone (Vienna Woods, Austria), we assessed the effects of different timber harvesting technologies – specifically harvester-forwarder (with or without bogie tracks) and chain saw-cable yarder – on soil functions. For the quantification of the surface runoff, we applied rainfall simulation experiments on seven plots of 50 m² each. All rainfall simulation experiments were conducted for one hour with a targeted intensity of 100 mm/h before and after harvesting. Within each irrigation plot, we sampled undisturbed soil cores at up to five depth levels (5, 15, 25, 40, 65 cm) for further analyses in the laboratory. We measured saturated hydraulic conductivity (KSAT device; METER Group, Munich, Germany), as well as soil water retention in the wet and medium soil moisture range using the HYPROP device (METER Group, Munich, Germany). In the dry soil moisture range (pF>4.2) we measured water retention with the dew point method using the WP4C device (METER Group, Pullman, USA). Additionally, soil texture and soil organic carbon were determined from the same soil samples.

Preliminary results suggest a strong impact of the harvester-forwarder system (w/wo bogie tracks) on all hydrologically effective soil properties, while the cable yarder system seems to have lower, yet still noticeable impacts. For the log10 of the saturated hydraulic conductivity (log10KS) the harvester-forwarder treatments cause significantly lower values, with reductions of up to >99% compared to values prior to harvesting. The decline of log10KS in cable yarding systems is only marginally significant (up to -49%). First order analyses of runoff coefficients show a strong effect of the harvester-forwarder system with observed values of up to 0.66. Undisturbed sites had no surface runoff and cable yarding only generated minimal surface runoff. 

How to cite: Behringer, M., Scheidl, C., Markart, G., Meißl, G., Froemel, M., Gasser, L., Grünberg, J., Haas, C., Hofbauer, A., Kitzler, B., Kühmaier, M., Nemestothy, N., Rewald, B., Wieshaider, A., and Katzensteiner, K.: On the impact of timber harvesting on soil water retention and surface runoff, EGU General Assembly 2024, Vienna, Austria, 14–19 Apr 2024, EGU24-6522,, 2024.