Skip to main content

The Effects of Wildfire on Snow Water Resources under Multiple Climate Conditions

A South Central CSC FY 2017 Funding Opportunity Project
Principal Investigator
C. David Moeser


Start Date
End Date
Release Date


The Colorado and Rio Grande Rivers provide drinking water to millions of people in the Southwest and South Central U.S. Snowmelt accounts for 70% of streamflow in these rivers, meaning that water use downstream is directly impacted by snow accumulation and snowmelt patterns in the mountains. Mountain forests are a critical part of the hydrologic cycle that feeds these rivers, providing water supply and storage. However wildfire, which is becoming more common as temperatures rise, can disrupt the role of mountain forests in the hydrologic cycle. Uncertainty about the interactions between wildfire and snow-water, and how these interactions may change as climate conditions shift, impedes effective water resource planning in the region. [...]

Child Items (3)


Principal Investigator :
C. David Moeser
Funding Agency :
South Central CSC
CMS Group :
Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASC) Program

Attached Files

Click on title to download individual files attached to this item.

“Trees Killed by the 2011 Las Conchas Fires, New Mexico; Credit: Craig Allen, USG”
thumbnail 257.53 KB image/jpeg

Project Extension

typeTechnical Summary
valueObjectives: Quantify the impacts of the Las Conchas, New Mexico (Rio Grande watershed), fire on local snow-water resources under (a) actual climate conditions and (b) potential future climate conditions. The modeling framework developed to address these objectives will be relevant not just to the Jemez Mountains, New Mexico, but also forested regions globally with snow-water resources that overlap potential burn areas. Background: Snow accounts for approximately 70% of total streamflow from the region’s primary water arteries, the Colorado River and Rio Grande. Forests within these watersheds are affected by climate change, modifications in land management, and a variety of natural disturbances such as wildfire and bark beetle attacks, all of which create uncertainty regarding the fate of this major water source. No studies have characterized or quantified the effects of forest fire on snow-water resources under a range of meteorological conditions that represent potential future climate scenarios. Until recently, forest snow models have been ill equipped to accurately quantify under-canopy snow accumulation and melt processes as they relate to the overlying forest canopy structure. Without tools to simulate and analyze potential impacts of wildfire on snow-water resources, effective water-resource planning, watershed protection, post-wildfire risk assessments, and future forest gap and growth analyses will have limited scientific basis or applicability in regions with wildfire potential. In order to better constrain forest-snow processes, a new snow-melt model has been developed that directly integrates LiDAR data for a high resolution representation of the modeling domain. A new process-based snow-interception model has also been developed that integrates LiDAR data to characterize the forest canopy. Methods: The snow-melt and interception model will be coupled. This will allow, for the first time, an accurate estimation of the effects of wildfire burn areas on snow-water resources under current and potential future meteorological conditions (representing the natural inter-annual variability in meteorological conditions and future climate trends). This model will be applied within the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez River Basin due to the unique availability of both a pre- and post-wildfire aerial LiDAR dataset. These datasets overlap approximately 200 km2 of the wildfire-damaged area from the high intensity Las Conchas fire (June 2011). Expected Products / Transfer: Deliverables include but are not limited to international scientific indexing journal article(s), conference presentations / affiliated proceedings and stakeholder presentations and meetings. The NWS plans on employing the results of this study to improve their forecasting capabilities in snowmelt-driven basins that have been impacted by wildfire (see attached letter of support). Also, study results will inform further research topics such as: snow feedbacks on forest evolution; impact of forest management scenarios on water resources; and methods to optimize snow-water resources after forest disturbance. Personnel: Beyond the above list of cooperators and partners, funding has been allocated for one graduate student for two years.

Budget Extension

typeAward Type

Trees Killed by the 2011 Las Conchas Fires, New Mexico; Credit: Craig Allen, USG
Trees Killed by the 2011 Las Conchas Fires, New Mexico; Credit: Craig Allen, USG


Spatial Services

ScienceBase WMS


  • National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers
  • South Central CASC



Additional Information


Type Scheme Key
RegistrationUUID NCCWSC e8c7f17a-4a7c-4d74-889d-ac98224812aa
StampID NCCWSC SC17-MC0908

Item Actions

View Item as ...

Save Item as ...

View Item...