Isotope-based partitioning of streamflow in the oil sands region, northern Alberta: Towards a monitoring strategy for assessing flow sources and water quality controls

Date

2016

Authors

Gibson, J.J.
Yi, Y.
Birks, S.J.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Publisher

Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies

Abstract

Study region This study is based on the rapidly developing Athabasca Oil Sands region, northeastern Alberta. Study focus Hydrograph separation using stable isotopes of water is applied to partition streamflow sources in the Athabasca River and its tributaries. Distinct isotopic labelling of snow, rain, groundwater and surface water are applied to estimate the contribution of these sources to streamflow from analysis of multi-year records of isotopes in streamflow. New hydrological insights for the region The results provide new insight into runoff generation mechanisms operating in six tributaries and at four stations along the Athabasca River. Groundwater, found to be an important flow source at all stations, is the dominant component of the hydrograph in three tributaries (Steepbank R., Muskeg R., Firebag R.), accounting for 39–50% of annual streamflow. Surface water, mainly drainage from peatlands, is also found to be widely important, and dominant in three tributaries (Clearwater R., Mackay R., Ells R.), accounting for 45–81% of annual streamflow. Fairly limited contributions from direct precipitation illustrate that most snow and rain events result in indirect displacement of pre-event water by fill and spill mechanisms. Systematic shifts in regional groundwater to surface-water ratios are expected to be an important control on spatial and temporal distribution of water quality parameters and useful for evaluating the susceptibility of rivers to climate and development impacts.

Description

Keywords

Stable isotopes, Hydrograph separation, Groundwater, Surface water, Snowmelt, Oil sands

Citation

Gibson, J.J., Yi, Y. & Birks, S.J., (2016). Isotope-based partitioning of streamflow in the oil sands region, northern Alberta: Towards a monitoring strategy for assessing flow sources and water quality controls. Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies, 5, 131-148. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ejrh.2015.12.062