Total and methyl mercury concentrations in sediment and water of a constructed wetland in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • In the Athabasca Oil Sands Region in northeastern Alberta, Canada, oil sands operators are testing the feasibility of peatland construction on the post-mining landscape. In 2009, Syncrude Canada Ltd. began construction of the 52 ha Sandhill Fen pilot watershed, including a 15 ha, hydrologically managed fen peatland built on sand-capped soft oil sands tailings. An integral component of fen reclamation is post-construction monitoring of water quality, including salinity, fluvial carbon, and priority pollutant elements. In this study, the effects of fen reclamation and elevated sulfate levels on mercury (Hg) fate and transport in the constructed system were assessed. Total mercury (THg) and methylmercury (MeHg) concentrations in the fen sediment were lower than in two nearby natural fens, which may be due to the higher mineral content of the Sandhill Fen peat mix and/or a loss of Hg through evasion during the peat harvesting, stockpiling and placement processes. Porewater MeHg concentrations in the Sandhill Fen typically did not exceed 1.0 ng L(-1). The low MeHg concentrations may be a result of elevated porewater sulfate concentrations (mean 346 mg L(-1)) and an increase in sulphide concentrations with depth in the peat, which are known to suppress MeHg production. Total Hg and MeHg concentrations increased during a controlled mid-summer flooding event where the water table rose above the ground surface in most of the fen. The Hg dynamics during this event showed that hydrologic fluctuations in this system exacerbate the release of THg and MeHg downstream. In addition, the elevated SO4(2-) concentrations in the peat porewaters may become a problem with respect to downstream MeHg production once the fen is hydrologically connected to a larger wetland network that is currently being constructed.

publication date

  • June 2016