NERSCPowering Scientific Discovery for 50 Years

How California Wildfires Can Impact Water Availability

Berkeley Lab LandCover BurnScars

Berkeley Lab researchers built a numerical model of the Cosumnes River watershed, extending from the Sierra Nevada mountains to the Central Valley, to study post-wildfire changes to the hydrologic cycle. (Credit: Berkeley Lab).

Scientific Achievement

Berkeley Lab researchers used NERSC supercomputers to show that conditions left behind by California wildfires lead to greater winter snowpack, greater summer water runoff and increased groundwater storage.

Significance and Impact

In recent years, wildfires in the western United States have occurred with increasing frequency and scale. Even though California could be entering a period of prolonged droughts with potential for more wildfires, there is little known on how wildfires will impact water resources. The study is important for planners and those who manage California’s water.

Research Details

The researchers modeled the Cosumnes River watershed, which extends from the Sierra Nevadas down to the Central Valley as a prototype of many California watersheds. Using about 3 million hours on NERSC’s Cori supercomputer to simulate watershed dynamics over a period of one year the study allowed them to identify the regions that were most sensitive to wildfire conditions, as well as the hydrologic processes that are most affected.

Additional Information

NERSC Powers Research on Post-Wildfire Water Availability

Maina, FZ, Siirila‐Woodburn, ER. Watersheds dynamics following wildfires: Nonlinear feedbacks and implications on hydrologic responses. Hydrological Processes. 2019; 1– 18.

About NERSC and Berkeley Lab
The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility that serves as the primary high performance computing center for scientific research sponsored by the Office of Science. Located at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, NERSC serves almost 10,000 scientists at national laboratories and universities researching a wide range of problems in climate, fusion energy, materials science, physics, chemistry, computational biology, and other disciplines. Berkeley Lab is a DOE national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy. »Learn more about computing sciences at Berkeley Lab.