Water Resources of Colorado

Using Logistic Regression To Predict the Probability of Debris Flows Occurring in Areas Recently Burned By Wildland Fires

By Michael G. Rupert, Susan H. Cannon, and Joseph E. Gartner

Open-File Report 03-500

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Logistic regression was used to predict the probability of debris flows occurring in areas recently burned by wildland fires. Multiple logistic regression is conceptually similar to multiple linear regression because statistical relations between one dependent variable and several independent variables are evaluated. In logistic regression, however, the dependent variable is transformed to a binary variable (debris flow did or did not occur), and the actual probability of the debris flow occurring is statistically modeled. Data from 399 basins located within 15 wildland fires that burned during 2000-2002 in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and New Mexico were evaluated. More than 35 independent variables describing the burn severity, geology, land surface gradient, rainfall, and soil properties were evaluated. The models were developed as follows: (1) Basins that did and did not produce debris flows were delineated from National Elevation Data using a Geographic Information System (GIS). (2) Data describing the burn severity, geology, land surface gradient, rainfall, and soil properties were determined for each basin. These data were then downloaded to a statistics software package for analysis using logistic regression. (3) Relations between the occurrence/non-occurrence of debris flows and burn severity, geology, land surface gradient, rainfall, and soil properties were evaluated and several preliminary multivariate logistic regression models were constructed. All possible combinations of independent variables were evaluated to determine which combination produced the most effective model. The multivariate model that best predicted the occurrence of debris flows was selected. (4) The multivariate logistic regression model was entered into a GIS, and a map showing the probability of debris flows was constructed. The most effective model incorporates the percentage of each basin with slope greater than 30 percent, percentage of land burned at medium and high burn severity in each basin, particle size sorting, average storm intensity (millimeters per hour), soil organic matter content, soil permeability, and soil drainage. The results of this study demonstrate that logistic regression is a valuable tool for predicting the probability of debris flows occurring in recently-burned landscapes.

Water Resources of Colorado

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
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