Alum Addition Triggers Hypoxia in an Engineered Pit Lake Academic Article uri icon

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  • Here, we examine the geobiological response to a whole-lake alum (aluminum sulfate) treatment (2016) of Base Mine Lake (BML), the first pilot-scale pit lake established in the Alberta oil sands region. The rationale for trialing this management amendment was based on its successful use to reduce internal phosphorus loading to eutrophying lakes. Modest increases in water cap epilimnetic oxygen concentrations, associated with increased Secchi depths and chlorophyll-a concentrations, were co-incident with anoxic waters immediately above the fluid fine tailings (FFT) layer post alum. Decreased water cap nitrate and detectable sulfide concentrations, as well as increased hypolimnetic phospholipid fatty acid abundances, signaled greater anaerobic heterotrophic activity. Shifts in microbial community to groups associated with greater organic carbon degradation (i.e., SAR11-LD12 subclade) and the SRB group Desulfuromonodales emerged post alum and the loss of specialist groups associated with carbon-limited, ammonia-rich restricted niches (i.e., MBAE14) also occurred. Alum treatment resulted in additional oxygen consumption associated with increased autochthonous carbon production, watercap anoxia and sulfide generation, which further exacerbate oxygen consumption associated with on-going FFT mobilized reductants. The results illustrate the importance of understanding the broader biogeochemical implications of adaptive management interventions to avoid unanticipated outcomes that pose greater risks and improve tailings reclamation for oil sands operations and, more broadly, the global mining sector.


  • Jessen, Gerdhard L
  • Chen, Lin-Xing
  • Mori, Jiro F
  • Nelson, Tara E Colenbrander
  • Slater, Greg
  • Lindsay, Matthew BJ
  • Banfield, Jillian F
  • Warren, Lesley A

publication date

  • February 26, 2022