Effect of fire on characteristics of dissolved organic matter in forested catchments in the Mediterranean biome: A review

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Water Research



PubMed ID





School of Science / Centre for People, Place and Planet




Tshering, K., Miotlinski, K., Blake, D., Boyce, M. C., Bath, A., Carvalho, A., & Horwitz, P. (2023). Effect of fire on characteristics of dissolved organic matter in forested catchments in the Mediterranean biome: A review. Water Research, 230, Article 119490. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2022.119490


Fires in forested catchments pose a water contamination risk from fire-derived dissolved organic matter (DOM). Fire events are expected to increase under a projection of warmer and drier climatic conditions; therefore, understanding the consequences of fire-derived DOM is critical for water supply and management of drinking water and catchments. This paper addresses how fire regime - the intensity, severity and frequency of fires - influences DOM quantity and composition in surface waters in forested catchments, and how long it takes for water quality to recover to pre-fire levels. A review of post-fire studies in Mediterranean regions reporting on DOM related parameters has been conducted. The literature shows that post-fire DOM composition and reactivity is different from DOM generated under processes of biological degradation, and hence our reliance on DOM ‘bulk properties’ and surrogate DOM bulk parameters may not provide sufficient information to deal with the potential complexity of the organic compounds produced by a catchment fire. Appropriate measures are important to adequately operate conventional water treatment facilities, for example. Critical parameters for the effects of burning include the alteration of DOM composition, aromaticity, and the relative amounts of labile/recalcitrant organic components. The literature shows mixed information for the influence of both burn severity and fire intensity, on these parameters, which indicates DOM response to fire is highly variable. For fire frequency, the evidence is more unequivocal, indicating that frequent fires change the composition of DOM to components that are less bioavailable, and elevate the degree of aromaticity, which may be detrimental to water quality. In addition, and in general terms, the more recent the fire, the more aromatic and humified DOM components are found, and vice versa. The recovery of surface water quality to pre-fire conditions was variable, with no safe temporal thresholds suggested in the literature. In some cases, fire-induced changes in DOM composition were observable up to 16 years post-fire. The lack of clearly observed trends in post-fire DOM with fire regimes could be attributed to numerous factors such as limited long-term and event-based observations, experimental design challenges, and site-specific biological, physical and hydrological factors. The application of terminologies used to describe fire regimes such as burn severity and fire intensity also creates challenges in comparing the outcomes and results from numerous studies.



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