The Relationship between Regional Climate and Post-fire Debris Flows in Glacier National Park
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Debris flows often occur on burned hillslopes in mountainous areas, which can damage infrastructure and pose hazards to people and wildlife. Glacier National Park, Montana, has a well-documented history of wildfires across its 400,000 hectares, making it especially vulnerable to these mass wasting events. This project focused on two fires in particular: the Trapper Creek fire from 2003, and the Red Eagle fire from 2006. The goal was to compare and contrast debris flows from a burn scar on the east side of the park with those from a burn scar on the west side of the park in order to understand the relationship between these events and the prevailing climate systems on opposite sides of the Continental Divide. Post-fire debris flows were digitized from aerial imagery (2-3 years post-fire) using ArcGIS, and parameters such as frequency and runout length were measured. At-risk infrastructure was identified based on the location of past flows and current roads and trails. Burned areas in western Glacier contained a higher frequency of debris flows due to higher annual precipitation. Conversely, burned areas in eastern Glacier produced debris flows with longer runout lengths due to the nature of the precipitation and greater sediment availability. By holding all other variables constant, this study has identified a relationship between climate and post-fire debris flows.