Modelling the hydrochemical trajectory of a constructed fen watershed: implications for peatland reclamation

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Owen F. Sutton , Jonathan S. Price

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The Nikanotee Fen Watershed was constructed on a post-mined oil sands landscape using salvaged and process-affected materials to test the feasibility of peatland reclamation, and to optimize future constructed fen designs. Concerns over water availability due to the subhumid climate of northern Alberta, and water quality from residual sodium contained within processaffected tailings sand pose challenges to peatland. In particular, the movement of sodium from the upland aquifer to the fen due to groundwater flow has the potential to negatively impact fen vegetation. Generating meaningful information about the trajectory of constructed ecosystems on a timeline relevant to mine closure planning and regulatory decision-making preclude the possibility of simply observing the development of the system. Therefore, this necessitates the use of models to aid in understanding the likely successional pathway. A groundwater flow and solute transport model was developed with MODFLOW-SURFACT and parameterized with laboratory experiments and 7 years of field data. The interannual variability in groundwater recharge was represented using Monte-Carlo simulations. Results indicate that under a stationary climate, the upland will remain capable of supplying sufficient groundwater to offset moisture deficits experienced by the fen during dry years. Anticipated results include peak sodium concentrations in the fen rooting zone, annual sodium export via surface discharge, and estimates of sodium residence time in the watershed. This model will aid in refining system design to improve the resilience of upland-fen systems to climatic and geochemical stresses.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program