Impact Assessment and Geochemical Background Analysis of Surface Water Quality of Catchments Affected by the 2017 Portugal Wildfires

Abstract: In October 2017, the Mondego hydrological basin was devastated by multiple wildfires. To understand the impacts that these had on surface water quality, monthly monitoring campaigns were implemented in the affected catchments. The campaigns oversaw the water’s physical characteristics and major, minor and trace constituents. Analysis of major changes was performed, as well as comparisons with geochemical backgrounds, determined using publicly available data collected prior to the fires. The backgrounds allowed us to verify which water parameters were most influenced by the fires. Wildfires were responsible for increasing turbidity on all watercourses, and electrical conductivity increased in watercourses with flatter, granitoid/sedimentary-dominated watersheds. Cl−, NO3−, and SO42− surpassed background values in most monitored basins. Changes in Al, Fe, Mn, As, Ba, and Zn concentrations were observed in all watercourses after the wildfires and decreases after intense rainfall. Background values were particularly exceeded for Al in all monitoring points and As in basins with extensive agricultural areas. Burnt plant material and organic matter partially account for the increases in Cl−, NO3−, SO42−, Al, As, Fe, and Mn content. High Al, Fe and Zn with low water conductivity suggests that these elements were associated with sediment loads after the removal of vegetation.