Trees on fire

The Challenge

Increasingly extensive and severe wildfires driven by climate and land use changes are posing major challenges around the world. Amongst their impacts is the erosion of nutrient and contaminant rich wildfire ash from burned slopes into rivers and reservoirs. This can lead to water contamination affecting not only aquatic ecosystems, but also drinking water supply for major cities. One of the main challenges in tackling this problem has been the lack of tools that enable predicting and mitigating contamination events following fires.

Dr Neris-Tome standing by a rocky gully

The Method

In collaboration with the major water suppliers Water New South Wales, (Australia) and United Utilities (UK), and the Island Council of Tenerife (Spain), Professor Stefan Doerr’s team together with colleagues at the US Forest Service and Melbourne University, have developed a set of tools and an end-user model that allow predicting sediment, ash and contaminants transport following actual or anticipated future wildfires. The model outputs include the identification of erosion ‘hot-spots’ in the catchments that can be treated to prevent serious erosion and prevent associated contamination events altogether.  

Mountain view

The Impact

  • In 2019/2020 wildfires burned an unprecedent large area of forest area in Australia, including much of Greater Sydney’s main domestic water supply catchments. The application of our tools supported the continuity of safe water supply to Sydney after heavy rainfall that led to extensive ash erosion into the main water supply reservoir.
  • Our model has also been applied to predict the impact of future fires to catchments deemed by United Utilities (UK) as high risk in terms of future fire impacts, supporting their wildfire risk and impact reduction measures.
  • We also developed a new erosion mitigation treatment for reducing soil and ash movement, which is already adopted as standard practice in the Canary Islands based on its superior efficacy and cost effectiveness compared to conventional emergency hillslope treatments.

May 28 2021

Dr Jonay Neris

Research Officer

Dr Jonay Neris

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Swansea University Research Themes