From cities to rural and wild areas, Kevan Moffett wants to better understand the role of water on the planet.
On the southern slope of Mount Adams in Washington, Moffett and her students are working to learn how soils recover moisture following wildfires so that trees and plants can sprout again. The field area has suffered three fires in the last 14 years — the McDonald Ridge fire of 2004, the Cold Springs fire of 2008 and the Cougar Creek burn of 2015.
“With three fires in overlapping areas, we can study field sites that have overlapping fires or just one,” said Moffett, an assistant professor of environmental hydrology at WSU Vancouver. “That’s the whole point of this project: These repeated fires are becoming more common. Finding a special spot to study them that’s really convenient is a unique opportunity.”
The research is supported by a National Science Foundation grant Moffett shares with Andrés Holz of Portland State University. They are studying “short‑interval reburns” to better understand the effects of repeated wildfires on Cascades forest ecology and hydrology. Over the next few years, Moffett, Holz and their student research teams will examine whether an altered hydrological cycle and changes in soil moisture may change how plants regrow after a fire and also make them more vulnerable under some conditions to repeated fires in the future. They will also help identify whether, and over what time scales, reburns might mitigate or worsen the downstream flood risks that often follow fires.