Assessing the potential impact of the

2015-2016 El Niño on the California
Rim Fire burn scar through debris
flow hazard mapping
Steven Larcom
Shane Grigsby
Dr. Susan Ustin

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Rim Fire:
257,314 acres; $127.35 million

Images from Jason Schroeder, SEAC4RS Mission, taken on
DC-8

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A debris flow is a moving mass of loose mud, soil,
rock, water, and air that travels down a slope under
the influence of gravity
Dangerous!

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Perfect timing: post-fire debris flows
typically occur within 2 years of fire
Factors:
1)slope
2)vegetation burn severity
3)erodibility of soil
**precipitation

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Elevation
DEM obtained from NASA JPL Shuttle Radar
Topography Mission (SRTM)
High

Low
No data

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Slope
Steep

Gradual
No data

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NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) is used to
measure vegetation life
High

Medium

Low
Derived from NASA AVIRIS (Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging
Spectrometer) images

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Spectral matching of clay (illite) with burn scar
Agreement

Disagreement

Derived from NASA AVIRIS images

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Risk assessment map
High

Medium

Low
No data

Percent of Area
Low = 6%
Medium = 55%
High = 39%

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The 2015-16 El Niño is forecasted to be one of the
strongest on record

From NOAA’s NWS
Climate Prediction Center

Oct-Nov-Dec 2015

Jan-Feb-Mar 2016

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1982-1983 El Niño

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1997-1998 El Niño

Recurrence Interval

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"Both convective thunderstorms and
longer-duration synoptic storms can
trigger debris flows from susceptible
recently burned areas, and the
conditions that result in debris flows
are frequently occurring, or lowrecurrence interval (<2 to 2 year)
events."

Cannon, Susan, and Jerry DeGraff. “The Increasing Wildfire and Post-Fire DebrisFlow Threat in Western USA, and Implications for Consequences of Climate Change.”
Landslides – Disaster Risk Reduction (2009): 177-190. Print.

From NOAA’s National Weather Service
Hydrometeorological Design Studies Center Precipitation
Frequency Data Server (PFDS)

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A 30-day precipitation event with a 2 year recurrence interval is
estimated to produce 14.3 - 17.4" of rain à Expected to cause debris
flows
In a 30-day period from January 30 - February 28, 1998, the Rim Fire
area (Hetch Hetchy) recorded a rainfall of 16.2"

Red: Daily recorded
rainfall
Blue: Running sum of
rainfall for 30 day period

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Hydrological: Toulumne/Clavey Rivers
Infrastructural: Forest Routes 1N01, 1N04, 1N10; Cherry Lake Rd
(Holm and Kirkwood Powerhouses), Evergreen/Hetch Hetchy Rds
(O'Shaughnessy Dam)

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Hetch Hetchy Hydroelectric System provides
20% of San Francisco's electrical needs; 85% of
Bay area’s clean water supply.

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39% of the Rim Fire burn scar can be classified
as “high risk”
Historical data provides evidence for future
precipitation above the debris flow threshold
A debris flow could impact both immediate and
remote populations

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January through March will be the best time to
watch for debris flows
Hazard map could be used for civil engineering
purposes (i.e. road strengthening/protection)
Watch the news!

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Shane Grigsby
Sean Freeman
Dr. Susan Ustin
Dr. Emily Schaller
Rick Shetter
Dr. Jack Kaye
Everyone else who helps to keep SARP going
year after year!