Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Estimating mineral surface area and acid sensitivity of forest soils in Kitimat, British Columbia
In 2012, the Rio Tinto aluminum smelter in Kitimat, British Columbia increased sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions from 27 to 42 tonnes/day. An initial study was conducted to investigate the effect of the increased sulphur (S) deposition on forest soils. A key uncertainty of the initial study was mineral surface area estimations that were applied to critical load calculations. The current study investigates the effect of organic matter (OM) removal techniques on mineral surface area and the ability to predict mineral surface area using pedotransfer functions (PTFs). Mineral surface area was measured on bulk soil samples using BET gas-adsorption. Organic matter was removed from soil samples prior to surface area measurements using a sodium hypochlorite treatment (NaOCl), loss on ignition (LOI) and no treatment. Removal techniques were found to affect surface area measurements; decreasing in the order of LOI> untreated> NaOCl. Particle-size based PTFs developed from other regions were not significantly correlated with measured surface area. A regionally-specific particle-size based function had stronger predictive value of surface area measurements (adjusted R2=0.82). The PTF that best reflected surface area measurements of bulk soil for the Kitimat area used particle-size data as well as kaolinite, the most abundant clay mineral in the region. Surface area values estimated using the particle-size PTF were applied to the PROFILE model to calculate weathering rates. Weathering rates were then input to critical load calculations using steady-state mass balance. These estimates predicted that none of the 24 measured sites are receiving SO2 deposition in exceedance of their critical load. Author Keywords: acid deposition, critical loads, mineral surface area, mineral weathering, pedotransfer functions, PROFILE
impact of selection harvesting on soil properties and understory vegetation in canopy gaps and skid roads in central Ontario
Tree harvesting alters nutrient cycling and removes nutrients held in biomass, and as a result nutrient availability may be reduced, particularly in naturally oligotrophic ecosystems. Selection harvesting is a silvicultural technique limited to tolerant hardwood forests where individual or small groups of trees are removed creating a “gap” in the forest canopy. In order for harvesting machinery to gain access to these individual trees, trees are felled to create pathways, known as skid roads. The objective of this study was to characterize differences in soil chemical and physical properties in gaps, skid roads and uncut areas following selection harvesting in central Ontario as well as documenting differences in the understory vegetation community and sugar maple (Acer saccharum) seedlings chemical composition post harvest. First year seedlings were collected for elemental analysis from unharvested areas, canopy gaps, and skid roads in 2014, eight months after harvesting. In 2015, first and second year sugar maple seedlings were collected. Soil bulk density and water infiltration were measured in the three areas of the catchment as well as soil moisture, organic matter content, exchangeable base cations, and net nitrification. Seedlings in the disturbed sites had lower concentrations of Mg, K, P, and N compared with unharvested sites and soil nitrification was significantly lower in the skid roads. Water infiltration rates in the gap and skid roads were slower than the control and concentrations of metals (e.g. Fe, Al, Ca) and litter mass increased in litter bags deployed over 335 days, likely reflecting an increase in soil erosion in the skid roads. Understory vegetation was markedly different amongst sites, particularly the dominance of Carex spp. in the skid roads. The sustainability of industrial logging is dependent on successful tree regeneration, however, increased soil compaction, establishment and growth of grasses and shrubs, as well as low nutrient concentrations in seedlings may ultimately restrict forest succession. Author Keywords: Canadian Shield, nitrification, selection harvesting, soil compaction, sugar maple seedling, understory vegetation
effects of in-stream woody debris from selective timber harvest on nutrient pools and dynamics within Precambrian Shield streams
Timber harvest can influence the rate of transfer of organic matter from the terrestrial catchment to streams, which may have both direct and indirect effects on in-stream nutrient pools and dynamics. In the interest of developing sustainable forestry practices, the continued study of the effects of forestry on nutrient dynamics in aquatic systems is paramount, particularly in sensitive nutrient-poor oligotrophic systems. The goal of this study was to investigate the impacts of harvest-related woody debris on stream nutrient status in streams located in the Canadian Shield region of south-central Ontario. Surveys showed greater large (> 10 cm) and small (< 10 cm) woody debris dry masses and associated nutrient pools in streams located in recently (2013) selectively harvested catchments, when compared with catchments not harvested for at least 20 years. Experimental releases of flagging tape underlined the importance of woody debris as a mechanism of coarse particulate organic matter (CPOM) retention. Sediment surveys showed a significant exponential decline in both OM content and nutrients associated with coarse sediment with distance upstream from debris dams. Laboratory leaching experiments suggest that fresh woody debris may be an important short-term source of water-soluble nutrients, particularly phosphorus and potassium. This study suggests that woody debris from timber harvest is both a direct and indirect source of nutrients, as trapped wood and leaves that accumulate behind debris dams can augment stream nutrient export over long time periods. Author Keywords: nutrient leaching, nutrient pools, organic matter retention, selection harvest, southern Ontario, woody debris
Impact of Wetland Disturbance on Phosphorus Loadings to Lakes
Total phosphorus (TP) concentrations have declined in many lakes and streams across south- central Ontario, Canada over the past three decades and changes have been most pronounced in wetland-dominated catchments. In this study, long-term (1980-2007) patterns in TP concentrations in streams were assessed at four wetland-dominated catchments that drain into Dickie Lake (DE) in south-central Ontario. Two of the sub-catchments (DE5 and DE6) have particularly large wetland components (31-34 % of catchment area), and wetlands are characterised by numerous standing dead trees and many young live trees (18 – 27 year old). These two streams exhibited large peaks in TP and potassium (K) export in the early 1980s. In contrast, TP and K export from DE8 and DE10 (wetland cover 19 – 20 %) were relatively flat over the entire record (1980-2007), and field surveys indicated negligible standing dead biomass in these wetlands, and a relatively healthy, mixed-age tree community. Furthermore, K:TP ratios in the DE5 and DE6 streams were around 5 in the early 1980s; very similar to the K:P ratio found in biomass, and as stream TP levels fell through the 1980s, K:TP ratios in DE5 and DE6 stream water increased. The coincidence of high TP and K concentrations in the DE5 and DE6 streams as well as evidence of a disturbance event in their wetlands during the early 1980s suggest that the two are related. The diameter of standing dead trees and allometric equations were used to estimate the amount of TP that would have been held in readily decomposed tree tissues in the DE5 wetland. The amount of P that would have been held in the bark, twig, root and foliage compartments of just the standing dead trees at DE5 was approximately half of the amount of excess stream TP export that occurred in the 1980s. This work suggests that disturbance events that lead to wetland tree mortality may contribute to patterns in surface water TP observed in this region. Author Keywords: Chemistry, Disurbance, Nutrients, Tree Death, Water, Wetland
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
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
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
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
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

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