Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Phosphorus forms and response to changes in pH in acid-sensitive soils on the Precambrian Shield
Catchment soil acidification has been suggested as a possible mechanism for reducing phosphorus (P) loading to surface waters in North America and northern Europe, but much of the research that has been conducted regarding P immobilization in pH manipulated soils has been performed at high P concentrations (> 130 μM). This study investigated how soil acidity was related to P fractionation and P sorption at environmentally relevant P concentrations to evaluate the potential influence of long term changes in soil pH on P release to surface waters. Total phosphorus (TP) concentrations declined between 1980 and 2000 in many lakes and streams in central Ontario; over the same time period forest soils in this region became more acidic. Soils were collected from 18 soil pits at three forested catchments with similar bedrock geology but varying TP export loads. The soil pH at the 18 study soil pits spanned the historic soil pH range, allowing for `space for time' comparison of soil P factions. Soils were analysed by horizon for P fractions via Hedley P fractionation. Batch P sorption experiments were performed on selected B-horizon soils at varied solution pH. Soil P fractions varied by horizon but were comparable among the three catchments, with only apatite (PHCl) differing significantly across catchments. Contrary to expectation, both soluble and labile P showed negative relationships with pH in some horizons. Mineral soils were able to sorb almost all (> 90 %) of the P in solution at environmentally relevant P concentrations (4.5 - 45.2 μM). Phosphorus sorption at environmentally relevant P concentrations was unrelated to solution pH but at high P concentration there was a positive relationship between P sorption and solution pH, suggesting a P concentration dependant P sorption mechanism. Phosphorus budgets indicate that P is accumulating within catchments, suggesting that P is being immobilized in the terrestrial environment. An alternative hypothesis, which attempts to explain both the decline in stream TP export and terrestrial P accumulation, is discussed. The results from this study suggest that acidification induced P sorption in upland soils are not a contributing factor to decreases in stream TP concentration in the study catchments. Author Keywords: central Ontario, Hedley fractionation, phosphorus, podzols, soil acidification, sorption
Factors Controlling Peat Chemistry and Vegetation Composition in Sudbury Peatlands after 30 Years of Emission Reductions
Peatlands are prevalent in the Sudbury, Ontario region. Compared with the well documented devastation to the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in this region, relatively little work has been conducted on the peatlands. The objective of this research was to assess factors controlling peat and plant chemistry, and vegetation composition in 18 peatlands in Sudbury after over 30 years of emission reductions. Peatland chemistry and the degree of humification varies considerably, but sites closer to the main smelter had more humified peat and the surface horizons were enriched in copper (Cu) and nickel (Ni). Copper and Ni concentrations in peat were significantly correlated with Cu and Ni in the plant tissue of leatherleaf, although the increased foliar metal content did not obviously impact secondary chemistry stress indicators. The pH and mineral content of peat were the strongest determining factors for species richness, diversity and community composition. The bryophyte communities appear to be acid and metal tolerant, although Sphagnum mosses are showing limited recovery. Author Keywords: anthropogenic emissions, bryophytes, community comspoition, heavy metals, peatlands, wetland vegetation
Nitrogen Retention of Terricolous Lichens in a Jack Pine Forest in Northern Alberta
The Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada is one of the largest point sources emitters of NOx in Canada and there are concerns that elevated nitrogen (N) deposition will lead to widespread eutrophication impacts, including altered species composition, similar to what has occurred in several parts of Europe. Atmospheric deposition rates as high as 25 kg N ha-1 yr-1 have been measured close to the industrial center. The role of the forest floor in regulating these potential eutrophication effects was investigated following a 5-year enrichment study in which N was applied as NH4NO3 above the canopy of a jack pine (Pinus banksiana Lamb) stand in northern Alberta close to Fort McMurray at dosages ranging from 5 – 25 kg N ha-1 yr-1 in addition to background deposition of 2 kg N ha-1 yr-1. Chemical analysis of lichen mats revealed that apical (upper) lichen tissue N concentration increased with treatment, as did the necrotic tissue. When expressed as a pool, the fibric-humic (FH) material held the largest quantity of N across all treatments due to its relatively large mass. Soil net N mineralization and net nitrification rates did not differ among N inputs after five years of application. A 15N tracer applied to the forest floor showed that N is initially absorbed by the apical lichen, FH material, and the foliage of the vascular plant Vaccinium myrtilloides in particular. After 2 years, the FH 15N pool size was elevated and all other measured pools were depleted, indicating a slow transfer of N to the FH material. Applied 15N was not detectable in mineral soil. The microbial functional gene ammonia monooxygenase (amoA) was undetectable using PCR screening of mineral soil microbial communities in all treatments, and broad fungal/bacterial qPCR assays revealed a weak treatment effect on fungal/bacterial ratios in mineral soil. This work suggests that terricolous lichen mats, which form the majority of ground cover in upland jack pine systems, have a large capacity to effectively retain elevated N deposition via the formation of stable humus. Author Keywords: Biogeochemistry, Boreal Ecology, Lichen, Nitrogen Enrichment, Oil Sands
Observation-based assessment of atmospheric sulphur surrounding a major aluminum smelter in British Columbia, Canada
Recent developments at an aluminum (Al) smelter in Kitimat, BC resulted in a permitted increase of 27 to 42 tonnes of sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions per day. Gaseous SO2 is a pollutant known to contribute to acidic deposition through processes of wet and dry deposition and can additionally react in-atmosphere to form particulate sulphate (pSO42-). Between June 2017 to October 2018, an extensive network consisting of ion exchange resin (IER) column, passive-diffusive, and active filter-pack samplers was established to provide an estimate of total annual S deposition and pSO42- variation throughout the Kitimat Valley. Filter-pack sampling determined the relative concentration of pSO42- increased downwind of the smelter. Comparison of observation-based and modelled total annual deposition suggested CALPUFF was accurate in representing the spatial viability of S deposition (R2 = > 0.85). However, the model appeared to overpredict near-field deposition suggesting the potential of underestimation further downwind of the smelter. Author Keywords: aluminum smelter, atmospheric deposition, filter-pack sampler, ion-exchange column sampler, pSO42-, SO2
Hydroclimatic and spatial controls on stream nutrient export from forested catchments
Winter nutrient export from forested catchments is extremely variable from year-to-year and across the landscape of south-central Ontario. Understanding the controls on this variability is critical, as what happens during the winter sets up the timing and nature of the spring snowmelt, the major period of export for water and nutrients from seasonally snow-covered forests. Furthermore, winter processes are especially vulnerable to changes in climate, particularly to shifts in precipitation from snow to rain as air temperatures rise. The objective of this thesis was to assess climatic and topographic controls on variability in stream nutrient export from a series of forested catchments in south-central Ontario. The impacts of climate on the timing and magnitude of winter stream nutrient export, with particular focus on the impact of winter rain-on-snow (ROS) events was investigated through a) analysis of long-term hydrological, chemical and meteorological records and b) high frequency chemical and isotopic measurements of stream and snow samples over two winters. The relationship between topography and variability in stream chemistry among catchments was investigated through a) a series of field and laboratory incubations to measure rates and discern controls on nitrogen mineralization and nitrification and b) analysis of high resolution spatial data to assess relationships between topographic metrics and seasonal stream chemistry. Warmer winters with more ROS events were shown to shift the bulk of nitrate (NO3-N) export earlier in the winter at the expense of spring export; this pattern was not observed in other nutrients [i.e. dissolved organic carbon (DOC), total phosphorus (TP), sulphate (SO4), calcium (Ca)]. Hydrograph separation revealed the majority of ROS flow came from baseflow, but the NO3-N concentrations in rainfall and melting snow were so high that the majority of NO3-N export was due to these two sources. Other nutrient concentrations did not show such a great separation between sources, and thus event export of these nutrients was not as great. Proportionally, catchments with varying topography responded similarly to ROS events, but the absolute magnitude of export varied substantially, due to differences in baseflow NO3-N concentrations. Field and laboratory incubations revealed differences in rates of net NO3-N production between wetland soils and upland soils, suggesting that topographic differences amongst catchments may be responsible for differences in baseflow NO3-N. Spatial analysis of digital elevation models revealed strong relationships between wetland coverage and DOC and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) concentrations in all seasons, but relationships between topography and NO3-N were often improved by considering only the area within 50 or 100m of the stream channel. This suggests nutrient cycling processes occurring near the stream channel may exert a stronger control over NO3-N stream outflow chemistry. Overall, topography and climate exert strong controls over spatial and temporal variability in stream chemistry at forested catchments; it is important to consider the interaction of these two factors when predicting the effects of future changes in climate or deposition. Author Keywords: biogeochemistry, forest, nitrate, south-central Ontario, stream chemistry, winter
Acidification of lakes in northern Saskatchewan
The emission of acid precursors by large point sources in Western Canada (such as the Athabasca Oil Sands Region) has prompted studies into the possible impact to downwind aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Sensitivity of catchments to acidic deposition was estimated for the total lake population of northern Saskatchewan (n=89,947) using regression kriging. Under the Steady State Water Chemistry model, a range of 12-15% of the total catchment population was predicted to be in exceedance of critical loads under 2006 deposition levels and 6% of catchments were estimated to be very sensitive (pH below 6 and acid neutralizing capacity, alkalinity, calcium below 50 eqL-1). Temporal changes in soil and water chemistry estimated for 18 Alberta and Saskatchewan catchments using the Very Simple Dynamic and PROFILE models showed that changes in soil base saturation and lake acid neutralizing capacity between 1850 and 2100 were slight, declining 0.8% and 0.9% by 2012, respectively. Author Keywords: acidification, critical loads, exceedance, PROFILE, regression kriging, VSD
Moss Biomonitoring of Trace Element Deposition in Northwestern British Columbia, Canada
Atmospheric pollutant deposition poses a risk to ecosystem health; therefore, monitoring the spatial and temporal trends of deposition is integral to environmental sustainability. Although moss biomonitoring is a common method to monitor various pollutants in Europe, offering a cost-effective approach compared to traditional methods of monitoring, it is rarely used in Canada. The focus of this study was a spatial assessment of trace element deposition across a region with a known large-point source of emissions using the moss biomonitoring method. Moss tissues presented strong correlations with modelled deposition in the region, suggesting mosses are a valuable biomonitoring tool of trace element deposition, especially in regions dominated by large-point emission sources. Additionally, a moss species endemic to Canada was compared to commonly used moss species with results indicating this species (Isothecium stoloniferum) can be used reliably as a biomonitor. Moss biomonitoring is recommended as a compliment to fill in spatial gaps in current monitoring networks across the country. Author Keywords: biomonitoring, bryophytes, Hylocomium splendens, moss, Pleurozium schreberi, trace elements
Effects of road salt sodium on soil
While previous studies have focused on how road salt affects water quality and vegetation, limited research has characterized road salt distribution through soil and the resulting impacts. The potential for sodium (Na+) to be retained and impact soil physical and chemical properties is likely to vary depending on the soil’s parent material, and more specifically on the extent of base saturation on the cation exchange complex. This thesis contrasted Na+ retention, impacts, and mobility in roadside soils in two different parent materials within southern Ontario. Soils were sampled (pits and deep cores) during fall 2013 and spring 2014 from two sites along highways within base-poor, Precambrian Shield soil and base-rich soil, respectively. Batch experiments were subsequently performed to investigate the influence of parent material and the effect of co-applied Ca2+-enriched grit on the longevity of Na+ retention in soils. Less Na+ is adsorbed upon the co-application of Ca2+, suggesting grit has a protective effect on soil by increasing cation exchange competition. Positive correlations between Na+ and pH, and negative correlations between Na+ and soil organic matter, % clay and base cations within Shield soils suggest that they are more vulnerable to Na+ impacts than calcareous soils due to less cation exchange competition. However, Na+ is more readily released from calcareous roadside soils, suggesting there is greater potential for Na+ transfer to waterways in regions dominated by calcareous soils. Author Keywords: cation exchange, parent material, road salt, sodium retention, urban soil
Size and fluorescence properties of allochthonous dissolved organic matter
Dissolved organic matter (DOM) is a mixture of molecules with dynamic structure and composition that are ubiquitous in aquatic systems. DOM has several important functions in both natural and engineered systems, such as supporting microorganisms, governing the toxicity of metals and other pollutants, and controlling the fate of dissolved carbon. The structure and composition of DOM determine its reactivity, and hence its effectiveness in these ecosystem functions. While the structure, composition, and reactivity of riverine and marine DOM have been previously investigated, those of allochthonous DOM collected prior to exposure to microbes and sunlight have received scant attention. The following dissertation constitutes the first in-depth study of the structure, composition, and reactivity of allochthonous DOM at its point of origin (i.e. leaf leachates, LLDOM), as detected by measuring its size and optical properties. Concomitantly, novel chemometric methods were developed to interpret size-resolved data obtained using asymmetrical flow field-flow fractionation, including spectral deconvolution and the application of machine learning algorithms such as self-organizing maps to fluorescence data using a dataset of more than 1000 fluorescence excitation-emission matrices. The size and fluorescence properties of LLDOM are highly distinct. Indeed, LLDOM was correctly classified as one of 13 species/sources with 92.5% accuracy based on its fluorescence composition, and LLDOM was distinguished from riverine DOM sampled from eight different rivers with 98.3% accuracy. Additionally, both fluorescence and size properties were effective conservative tracers of DOC contribution in pH-controlled mixtures of leaf leachates and riverine DOM over two weeks. However, the structure of LLDOM responded differently to pH changes for leaves/needles from different tree species, and for older needles. Structural changes were non-reversible. Copper-binding strength (log K) differed for the different fluorescent components of DOM in a single allochthonous source by more than an order of magnitude (4.73 compared to 6.11). Biotransformation preferentially removed protein/polyphenol-like fluorescence and altered copper-binding parameters: log K increased from 4.7 to 5.5 for one fluorescent component measured by fluorescence quenching, but decreased from 7.2 to 5.8 for the overall DOM, as measured using voltammetry. The complexing capacity of DOM increased in response to biotransformation for both fluorescent and total DOM. The relationship between fluorescence and size properties was consistent for fresh allochthonous DOM, but differed in aged material. Since the size and fluorescence properties of LLDOM are strikingly different from those of riverine DOM, deeper investigation into transformative pathways and mixing processes is required to elucidate the contribution of riparian plant species to DOM signatures in rivers. Author Keywords: Analytical chemistry, Chemometrics, Dissolved organic matter (DOM), Field-flow fractionation, Fluorescence spectroscopy, Parallel factor analysis (PARAFAC)
Carbon Exchange along a Natural Gradient of Deciduous Shrub Coverage in the Low-Arctic
Arctic terrestrial ecosystems have experienced substantial structural and compositional changes in response to warming climate in recent decades, especially the expansion of shrub species in Arctic tundra. Climatic and vegetation changes could feedback to the global climate by changing the carbon balance of Arctic tundra. The objective of this thesis was to investigate the influence of increased shrub coverage on carbon exchange processes between atmosphere and the Arctic tundra ecosystem. In this study a space-for-time substitution was used, referred to as a shrub expansion “chronosequence”, with three sites along a natural gradient of deciduous shrub coverage in the Canadian low Arctic. Leaf-level photosynthetic capacity (Amax) of dominating birch shrub Betula glandulosa (Michx.) was significantly higher (P<0.05) at the site where shrubs were more abundant and taller than at the other sites. For all sites, mean Amax in 2014 was significantly lower than in 2013, in part potentially due to differences in precipitation distribution. Bulk soil respiration (RS) rate was significantly higher (P<0.05) at the site with more shrubs compared with the other sites. The differences in RS across sites appeared to be driven by differences in soil physiochemical properties, such as soil nitrogen and soil bulk density rather than soil microclimate factors (e.g. soil temperature, moisture). The three sites were either annual CO2 sources (NEP<0) to the atmosphere or CO2 neutral, with strongest annual CO2 sources (-44.1±7.0 g C m-2) at the site with most shrubs. Overall this study suggests that shrubs tundra carbon balance will change with shrub expansion and that shrub ecosystems in the Arctic currently act as annual carbon sources or neutral to the atmospheric CO2 and further shrub expansion might strengthen the CO2 emissions, causing a positive feedback to the warming climate. Author Keywords: arctic tundra, carbon exchange, climate change, photosynthetic capacity, shrub expansion, soil respiration
Seasonal variation in nutrient and particulate inputs and outputs at an urban stormwater pond in Peterborough, Ontario
Stormwater ponds (SWPs) are a common feature in new urban developments where they are designed to minimize runoff peaks from impervious surfaces and retain particulate matter. As a consequence, SWPs can be efficient at retaining particle-bound nutrients, but may be less efficient at retaining nutrients that are present primarily in the dissolved form, like nitrogen (N). However, the forms of nutrients (e.g. particulate vs. dissolved) likely differ with hydrologic and seasonal conditions and few studies have examined year-round differences in nutrient forms and concentrations at urban SWPs. In order to contrast total suspended solids (TSS), phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) levels between low and high flow conditions, sampling was conducted at an urban SWP in Peterborough, ON between November 2012 and October 2013. Only an increase in TSS levels at the outflow between low and high flow conditions was observed, as well as a decrease in TSS levels at the outflow compared to Inflow 1 under low flow conditions. Nitrate-N (NO3-N) was the dominant form of N entering the pond under all flow conditions, whereas the fraction of total-P (TP) that was particulate increased under high flow conditions. Nevertheless, the dissolved fraction of TP was consistently high in these urban inlets. Only NO3-N was significantly greater in the inflows than outflow and only under low flow conditions. Increases in the proportions of organic-N and ammonium-N in the outlet suggest that biological processing is important for N retention. Author Keywords: nitrogen, Ontario, phosphorus, stormwater ponds, total suspended solids
Phosphorus deposition in forested watersheds
Phosphorus (P) is an essential macronutrient. In south-central Ontario, foliar P concentrations are low and studies have suggested that P may be limiting forest productivity. Current catchment mass balance estimates however, indicate that P is being retained suggesting that P should not be limiting to tree growth. Phosphorus deposition is measured using bulk deposition collectors, which are continuously open and therefore are subject to contamination by pollen and other biotic material with high P and potassium (K) concentrations and may therefore overestimate net P inputs to forested catchments. Average annual TP and K deposition at three long-term (1984 – 2013) monitoring sites near Dorset, Ontario ranged from 15 to 20 mg·m-2y-1 and 63 to 85 mg·m-2y-1, respectively, and was higher at Paint Lake compared with Plastic Lake and Heney Lake. Phosphorus and K in bulk precipitation were strongly positively correlated, but deposition patterns varied spatially and temporally among the three sites. Total phosphorus and K deposition increased significantly at Plastic Lake and decreased significantly at Paint Lake, but there was no significant trend in TP or K deposition at Heney Lake over the 30 year period. All sites, but especially Paint Lake, exhibited considerable inter-annual variation in TP and K deposition. To quantify the contribution of pollen, which represents an internal source of atmospheric P deposition, Durham pollen collectors during the spring and summer of 2014 were used. The three sites, Paint Lake, Heney Lake, and Plastic Lake had pollen deposition amounts of 5202 grains·cm-2, 7415 grains·cm-2, and 12 250 grains·cm-2, respectively in 2014. Approximately 83% of pollen deposition can be attributed to white pine and red pine that has a concentration of 3 mg·g-1 of P. It was estimated that pollen alone could account for up to one-third of annual bulk P deposition. Extrapolating winter P deposition values to exclude all potential biotic influences (insects, bird feces, leaves), indicates that bulk deposition estimates may double actual net P to forests, which has implications for long-term P availability, especially in harvested sites. Author Keywords: Atmospheric Deposition, Phosphorus, Pine, Pollen, Potassium, South-Central Ontario


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