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From international, national and local sources, highlights continuously updated news, events, and announcements affecting Virginia’s engineering community. Virginia’s Professional/Technical societies, colleges and universities, private firms, and industry are strongly encouraged to submit news pertaining to their engineering activities. We want to hear from and about you. Contact us at for details.

Most Recent News Item:
Researchers Study Fire's Effects On Soil Moisture And Runoff
December 14, 2018

Massive and devastating wildfires across the country’s Southwest and West have unfortunately become an almost continuous topic during the daily news cycle. Beyond the obvious destruction of forests and the loss of habitat for wildlife large and small, scientists and researchers are now studying the impact these fires have on the soil’s ability to retain water and the impact of runoff from precipitation events in those burned areas.

In 2011, a massive wildfire in New Mexico burned more than 150,000 acres and threatened the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Photo credit: Brian Klieson.

In 2011, a massive wildfire in New Mexico burned more than 150,000 acres and threatened the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Now, using data from the Las Conchas mega-fire, researchers at Los Alamos have created an experimental model that will enable researchers to better understand the interactions of fire and water in the soil.

With funding provided by Los Alamos National Laboratories Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD), Adam L. Atchley, a researcher at Los Alamos, and his team set off with a goal: to evaluate how the soil’s water balance changes before and after a fire, depending on the burn severity.

According to information presented in their research paper, “Simulating Surface and Subsurface Water Balance Changes Due to Burn Severity,” published in the Vadose Zone Journal, “Forest fires have a significant impact on hydrology, such as reduced infiltration rates leading to increased flooding. However, post-fire water balance changes and the competing hydrologic response of increased runoff and evapotranspiration as a function of burn severity are not well understood. Comparing pre- and post-fire water balance changes is challenging because measurements of fire-disturbed landscapes with the previously undisturbed character are impractical due to non-repetitive observational conditions. We used a physically based modeling experiment to incorporate burn severity data from the Las Conchas fire to approximate model parameterization to evaluate continuous water balance progression for pre- and post-fire simulations using the same forcing conditions.”

Using measurements taken several years before the fire by the Bandelier Fire Ecology Field Team, the researchers discovered that low- to moderate-severity wildfires result in wetter soil. However, “this modeling experiment also identified a tipping point where increased overland flow from high burn severity sites eclipses the effect of reduced evapotranspiration on the water balance, causing comparatively drier post-fire soils,” Dr. Atchley noted.

“It is well known that fire disturbances can have a strong effect on how water interacts with land,” noted Dr. Atchley. “Fire often dramatically increases flashy runoff responses to storms following the fire disturbance. But it also reduces evapotranspiration. What is not well understood, and is hard to measure, is how these two competing processes change the site water balance, or how wet or dry a burn site will be after the fire. Increasing the runoff would make the site dryer overall while decreasing the evapotranspiration will keep water on the site and make it wetter,” Dr. Atchley said.

“What we found,” Dr. Atchley explained, “is that burn sites will generally become wetter because the change in evapotranspiration is bigger than the change in runoff. However, in the case of high-burn severity, the site could become drier because the change in runoff shortly after the fire becomes bigger than the change in evapotranspiration.”

News Items
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Researchers Study Fire's Effects On Soil Moisture And Runoff
December 14, 2018

Study identifies tipping point in soil’s ability to retain moisture after fire.

FIRST® Tech Challenge Centreville Qualifier In December 2018
December 14, 2018

FIRST Tech Challenge Centreville Qualifier is scheduled for December 16, 2018.

New Manual of Practice Focuses Rainfall Estimation
December 13, 2018

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) new book, Radar Rainfall Data Estimation and Use, MOP 139, provides a detailed look…

Registration Open For EduCode 2019
December 13, 2018

EduCode 2019, March 11–15, is geared for working building safety and code compliance professionals.

The ALPIP Is Accepting Applications From Undergraduate Students at Southeastern U.S. Universities
December 12, 2018

The NSF EPSCoR CPU2AL program is sponsoring the Alabama Plasma Internship Program (ALPIP), a 10-week summer internship program for undergraduate students enrolled at institutions across the Southeastern U.S.

Waste Harbors Threats and Opportunities
December 12, 2018

As demand for meat and dairy products increases across the world, much attention has landed on how livestock impact the environment, from land usage to greenhouse gas emissions.

VSP Selects Consultant For Architecture and Engineering Services
December 11, 2018

Virginia State Police (VSP) has announced the selection of Dewberry, a privately held professional services firm, to perform architecture and engineering services for the design of its…

Largest Mach 6 Quiet Hypersonic Test Facility In US Unveiled
December 11, 2018

The University of Notre Dame has completed development of the country’s largest quiet Mach 6 hypersonic wind tunnel.

Storm Runoff and Flash Floods Increase with Rising Temperatures and Human Activity
December 10, 2018

Study shows climate changes and human activity increase prevalence of flash flooding and storm runoff.

ASHRAE Issues Call For Comment - Multiple Standards
December 10, 2018

Public and stakeholder review and comment sought for the purpose of developing consensus standards.

Bionic Mushroom Produces Electricity
December 7, 2018

In the quest to replace fossil fuels, scientists are always on the lookout for alternative, environmentally friendly sources of energy.

FIRST® Tech Challenge Christiansburg Qualifier In December 2018
December 7, 2018

FIRST Tech Challenge Christiansburg Qualifier is scheduled for December 8, 2018.

News Items Archive
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