While western U.S. wildfires have increased in intensity and scale, their impacts on soil chemical composition and hydraulic processes have received little attention, despite increasing erosion, surface runoff and flooding. The relationships between biomass-burning emissions, composition of the soil, fire heat, and soil water repellency are fragmental and sometimes contradictory. Here, we characterized the water repellency of sand (soil surrogate) exposed to Jeffrey pine duff smoke under controlled laboratory conditions. Water drop penetration time (WDPT), effective contact angle, and relative sorptivity of exposed silica sand (soil surrogate) were determined. Sand samples treated with smoke and heat or with cold smoke showed severe-to-extreme water repellency (WDPT > 1020 s). Sand samples exposed to fulvic acid (surrogate for soil organic matter) showed strong water repellency (WDPT = 81 s) that increased to become severe (WDPT = 2305 s) after subsequent heating to 200 °C for two hours. All sand samples exposed to either fire emissions or fulvic acid showed WDPTs >81 s, effective contact angles between 78° and 87°, and relative sorptivities between 0.31 and 0.49 compared with the untreated sand samples, with a WDPT <0.5 s, effective contact angle of 48°, and relative sorptivity of 1. This indicates that the sorptivity-controlled water infiltration into treated sand is less than half of that into untreated sand.
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