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Baseline hydrogeochemistry and connectivity among landscape units of two wetland-rich Boreal sites in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region, Alberta

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dc.contributor.author Kusel, Caren
dc.date.accessioned 2014-05-21T22:44:06Z
dc.date.available 2014-05-21T22:44:06Z
dc.date.copyright 2014 en_US
dc.date.issued 2014-05-21
dc.identifier.uri http://hdl.handle.net/1828/5414
dc.description.abstract Developing critical loads for nitrogen (N) in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR) requires an understanding of the hydrological connectivity and potential for N transport among uplands, fens and bogs typical in the wetland-rich Boreal region of northern Alberta. The Cumulative Environmental Management Association’s (CEMA) overarching mandate is to determine a nitrogen critical load specific to the Boreal region of northern Alberta. To this end, nitrogen amendment experiments were initiated at two Boreal wetland sites: an upland – rich fen gradient at Jack Pine High (JPH) and an upland – fen – bog mosaic at Mariana Lakes (ML), 45 km north and 100 km south of Fort McMurray respectively. The objectives of this study are to use geochemical and isotopic tracers to describe baseline hydrogeochemical variability and connectivity between bog, fens and upland areas in the AOSR. Sites were instrumented with piezometer nests and water table wells along transects that cover the targeted landscape units (n = 108 sampling locations). Fieldwork related to this thesis was conducted during the open-water season: in June and August 2011, and in May, July, and September 2012. Field campaigns also included a snow survey (March 2012), and spring melt/freshet sampling (April 2012). The analysis of spatiotemporal variability of water isotopes and geochemistry in the years 2011-2012 yielded: i) a characterization of baseline conditions from which perturbations can be assessed, and ii) evidence of connectivity among landscape units. No evidence for elevated concentrations of nitrogen related to the amendment experiments was found in 2011 or 2012. The baseline characterization and annual monitoring did show increasing concentrations of inorganic ammonium with increasing depth associated with increasing solute concentrations: average concentrations of inorganic ammonium were 23 mg/L at deepest sampling locations (7 m) at ML bog and ML fen landscape units. These ammonium concentrations in porewaters, given a porosity of 0.90 for peatlands, constitute a store of ammonium that may be a significant source of nitrogen if the hydrology is altered due to co-occurring changes in vegetation (due to, for example, elevated nitrogen inputs), climate and/or landuse. Hydrologic connectivity at JPH is likely driven by topography. Hydraulic head in 2011 and 2012 field seasons showed that flow persisted from the upland to the fen. The consistent and distinct geochemical signatures and isotopic labelling of mid-depth and deep groundwater samples of fen and upland landscape units is consistent with such a stable groundwater continuum. Near-surface water samples at JPH fen however varied hydrogeochemically in response to seasonal changes in precipitation inputs, water levels, and biogeochemical productivity. At ML, hydrological connectivity is a function of antecedent moisture conditions (which determines run-off) and low and variable (10-6 to 10-9 m/s) hydrological conductivity of the peatland substrate (which may result in lateral flow where hydraulic head shows potential for vertical re- or discharge). Near-surface samples showed greater temporal than spatial variability as snowmelt inputs, variations in antecedent moisture conditions and seasonal changes in biogeochemical process rates affected nutrient and solute concentrations. In contrast, shallow, mid-depth and deep samples showed greater spatial than temporal variability. The spatial distributions of parameters could be associated to some degree with vegetation, distance along a surficial flowpath, or depth to mineral substrate or distance from the upland/edge transition. en_US
dc.language English eng
dc.language.iso en en_US
dc.subject wetland hydrogeochemistry en_US
dc.subject hydrological connectivity en_US
dc.subject stable isotopes en_US
dc.title Baseline hydrogeochemistry and connectivity among landscape units of two wetland-rich Boreal sites in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region, Alberta en_US
dc.type Thesis en_US
dc.contributor.supervisor Gibson, John J.
dc.contributor.supervisor Birks, S. Jean
dc.degree.department Department of Geography en_US
dc.degree.level Master of Science M.Sc. en_US
dc.rights.temp Available to the World Wide Web en_US
dc.description.scholarlevel Graduate en_US
dc.description.proquestcode 0996 en_US
dc.description.proquestcode 0388 en_US
dc.description.proquestcode 0425 en_US


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