Document Type


Date of Degree


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Weirich, Frank H


First order fire effects in mixed grass and tallgrass prairies may differ between current and historic fire regimes. To determine potential differences, the thermal dynamics of nine prescribed grassland fires and six experimental fires were evaluated.

Fires were instrumented with dataloggers and arrays of up to twelve thermocouples set at heights ranging from -5 cm to 300 cm. Soil moisture and texture were documented, along with fuel characteristics. A series of experimental fires allowed soil moisture to be manipulated while minimizing other variables.

Maximum temperature for the prescribed fires was 875°C at 75cm, and for the experimental fires 920°C at 10 cm. In experimental fires, the greatest temperature difference was at the surface with the dry substrate averaging 130°C higher than saturated. Average temperatures at -1 cm differed by 33°C. At 60°C, residence times in dry substrate averaged almost four minutes, while the average for saturated treatment was only 1 second. Surface residence times on dry substrate averaged over 7 minutes, almost 3 times longer than saturated.

Soil moisture was shown to influence relative humidity and fine fuel moisture near the ground surface. An increased evaporation of soil water at the surface is suggested by a slight drop in subsurface temperatures as the flaming front moves over the surface. These data suggest that soil moisture affects fire intensity, decreasing temperatures at all levels of a fire.

Temperatures and residence times were compared with data from studies documenting temperatures significantly affecting seed germination and edaphic effects at and below the surface. Temperatures increasing the germination of some seeds were found at all heights. Temperatures documented can be expected to decrease organic matter content and aggregate stability at the surface, slightly increasing erodibility.

Thermal dynamics from the fires in this study represent a broad range of grassland fires under conditions common for prescribed fire. Soil moisture appears to significantly affect temperatures and residence times below, at, and above the soil surface.

Data were compared with output from FOFEM 5.2 to access the applicability of FOFEM for use in mixed grass and tallgrass prairie. FOFEM consistently underestimated soil heating by up to 419°C.


prairie, prescribed fire, soil moisture, fire behavior, grassland


xvi, 160 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 152-160).


This thesis has been optimized for improved web viewing. If you require the original version, contact the University Archives at the University of Iowa:


Copyright © 2006 Mary Elizabeth Lata

Included in

Geology Commons