Forest fires can have a direct and immediate impact on soil properties, particularly soil water repellency. This study investigated the direct impacts of the Gangneung forest fire of 2019 on soil properties and the spatial variability of soil water repellency with vegetation burn severity in the Korean red pine (Pinus densiflora
Siebold and Zucc) forest of South Korea. A total of 36 soil samples were collected at depth intervals of 0–5 cm, 10–15 cm, and 20–25 cm from three burned sites, representing surface-fuel consumption (SC), foliage necrosis (FN), and crown-fuel consumption (CC), respectively. An unburned site was also used as a control. Soil properties such as soil texture, pH, bulk density, electrical conductivity (EC), total organic carbon (TOC), and cation exchange capacity (CEC) were analyzed in the laboratory. The increase in the sand fraction near the soil surface after a fire was associated with changes in silt and clay fractions. Moderate to high vegetation burn severity at the FN and CC sites caused a decrease in soil pH due to the thermal destruction of kaolinite mineral structure, but organic matter combustion on the soil surface increased soil pH at the SC site. Forest fires led to increases in total organic carbon at the FN and SC sites, owing to the external input of heat damaged foliage and burnt materials. Molarity of an ethanol droplet (MED) tests were also conducted to measure the presence and intensity of soil water repellency from different locations and soil depths. MED tests showed that vegetation burn severity was important for determining the strength of water repellency, because severely burned sites tended to have stronger water repellency of soil than slightly burned sites. Unburned soils had very hydrophilic characteristics across soil depths, but a considerably thick hydrophobic layer was found in severely burned sites. The soil water repellency tended to be stronger on steep (>30°) slopes than on gentle (<15°) slopes.
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