Multiple fully funded MSc and PhD opportunities at University of Waterloo

Website University of Waterloo

Hydrometeorology Research Group

Water fluxes and system evolution of mine pit lakes

Fully funded MSc and PhD students are being soughtto work on research on End-Pit Lakes in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region. All oil sands mine closure landscapes are designed to include pit lakes. Thus, designing and constructing self-sustaining pit lake ecosystems in an accelerated timeframe at the commercial scale is a critical component of oil sands mine reclamation and closure landscape designs. Coal and metal mines have historically reclaimed mine pits into functioning lake ecosystems, although with varying success. However, there is much less information regarding pit lake functioning in an oil sands setting, and more research is needed to evaluate system design features and performance. This information will inform future design optimizations and identify the critical issues and considerations for designing and constructing pit lakes at the commercial scale. Specific projects include: 1) Identify the dominant components of the water budget of the Upland Watershed and the DPL (individually and collectively) now, and evaluate how will this change in the next 5, 10, 20 and 50 years to help determine if the DPL is self- sustainable; 2) Determine the significant upland features that ensure adequate flow to the lake, and assess how these features and processes will evolve as vegetation develops and influences soil moisture dynamics; and 3) Establish the residence time of the pit lake, and how will this change when scaling up to commercial-scale, and what the implications will be for water quality.

Peatland Reclamation

Fully funded MSc and PhD positions are available in peatland reclamation work in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region. In Northern Alberta, where oil sands are extracted, open pit mining covers an area of ~895 km2, and peat dominated wetlands fed by groundwater, mostly fens, cover about half of this area. Industry is required to return the landscape to equivalent functionality. This means that functioning wetlands must be returned to the landscape as part of their landscape reclamation effort. An experimental fen system was constructed, along with the entire watershed that is required to generate groundwater flows that sustain an appropriate level wetness in the fen peatland. Specific projects include:

1) Examine soils and vegetation treatments on previously reclaimed sites to quantify partitioning of vertical fluxes of energy and water. This project will use a range in LFH and vegetation treatments on previously reclaimed sites to quantify the partitioning of the vertical fluxes of energy and water, and model (Gash-modified, CRHM) the relative importance of interception losses to the overall moisture regime of these systems. This work may further examine vascular vegetation plots (differing communities, densities and structure) to understand how the ratio of transpiration:evaporation varies as a function of canopy and soil development. Development of conceptual and empirical models of vegetation community composition and function under a broad range of hydrological and geochemical conditions and nutrient availability will allow prediction of plant community composition and production, and their functioning under potential reclamation scenarios. The results will help inform industry how design decisions will impact reclamation outcomes from a vegetation composition and structure as well as biogeochemical function perspective.

2) Incorporate spatial and temporal patterns and rates of water, nutrients and carbon stores and fluxes to, from, and within natural reference fens into a modelling framework to examine the trajectory of reclaimed systems under varying climatic scenarios. The spatial and temporal patterns of fundamental ecosystem processes will be added to our database, which will be used to evaluate the performance of the system in the first 10 years and used to refine and calibrate our models. The data will show us if the hydrological function of the system can ensure sufficiently wet conditions in the fen, even through drier periods of the regional climate cycle, and if these conditions will be sufficient for net carbon sequestration in most years.

3) Use a combination of modelling approaches (i.e. CRHM, GSFLOW-PRMS, HYDRUS) to represent feedbacks in scaled-up system; determine optimum wetland:upland area in the reclaimed landscape and evaluate the resilience of natural systems in the Boreal Plains landscape. With explicit consideration to the anticipated types and relative quantities of reclamation materials available in the closure landscape, determine optimal ratios and spatial configuration of constructed uplands, focused recharge features and wetland/peatland ecosystems that create sustainable systems and maximize the relative area of wetland/peatland features, while maintaining efficient water use at the landscape scale. These models will be used to analyze the feedback between different landforms at a wide range of scales, and conceptually track their development through time (e.g., from initial conditions to many decades post-construction) as mediated by variable precipitation, evapotranspiration, runoff and evolving material properties. Combined with sensitivity analyses these model results will offer the capability to evaluate scenarios with the many demands and constraints of materials available for landform reconstruction and landscape reclamation. Furthermore, these models will illustrate the tolerance of these systems to unintentional variance from design due to the practical difficulties of constructing systems at the landscape-scale.

Boreal Plains Ecohydrology

A fully funded PhD position is being recruited to examine the long-term success of ecosystems along an environmental gradient, which requires an understanding of the landscape-scale water balance and the respective hydrologic roles of these ecosystems. While there is considerable knowledge of natural analogue systems in the literature and from other programs, the vertical versus lateral partitioning of water in the sub-humid Boreal Plains requires careful consideration of all hydrological fluxes combined with a knowledge as to how these fluxes will change with ecosystem development and a variable climate. Considering that the greatest variability in water balance is precipitation (as both rain and snow) and evapotranspiration (based on age of the landscape, species type, stage of growth and moisture stress). This work will make use of an unprecedented network of 13 flux sites spanning peatlands and forests in the Boreal Plains to provide water balance information (P-E envelopes) for all representative landscape units in the region. Flux measurements of a range in site and

climatic conditions will provide time-varying envelopes, which will allow an empirically-driven estimate of water available for recharge/runoff across the landscape.

Inquiries on any of these positions may be directed to:
Dr. Richard Petrone
Professor, Hydrometeorology Research Group
University of Waterloo
P: (519) 888 – 4567, 39174

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