Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Assessing limnological characteristics of subarctic Québec thaw ponds and mercury methylation and methylmercury demethylation within their sediments
Thawing permafrost due to increasingly warm temperatures in northern subarctic regions is releasing mercury. The consequent formation of thaw ponds in the peatland palsa valley of the Sasapimakwananisikw (SAS) river in Whapmagoostui-Kuujjuarapik, Québec may provide a pool for MMHg formation and a potential risk to aquatic and human life, if these ponds facilitate MMHg export through hydrological connections to nearby waterways. Hg methylation and MMHg demethylation activities were examined in thaw pond sediments using a Hg tracer isotope incubation experiment. Analysis by coupling gas chromatography cold-vapor atomic fluorescence spectrophotometry (GC-CVAFS) with inductively coupled mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) techniques showed that MMHg was produced at a higher rate and within the first 2 h of incubation for both summer and winter seasons. For thaw ponds SAS1A, SAS1B and SAS2A, MMHg was formed at 0.0048 % h-1, 0.0012 % h-1, and 0.0008 % h-1, respectively during winter and at 0.0001 % h-1, 0.0016 % h-1, and 0.0010 % h-1, respectively during summer. Detection of MMHg losses were not as expected likely due to limitations of the combined tracer spike and overestimation of the in situ ambient mercury levels. Physical and chemical properties vary within ponds, among ponds and between winter and summer. SAS1B’s location nearby an organic carbon rich palsa may be ideal to study DOC – Hg interactions. Variability in pond characteristics including depth, surface area, age, pH, temperature, colour, oxygen concentration, total dissolved and suspended solids, conductivity, carbon, mercury, ammonium, calcium, magnesium, sulfate, total phosphorous, potassium, and sodium between seasons indicate the challenge of predicting future environmental impacts of climate change related thaw pond creation in the north. Author Keywords: demethylation, mercury, methylation, methylmercury, SAS, thaw ponds
Hydrological and Flooding Effects on Stream Nutrient Levels
Stream solutes are strongly linked to hydrology, and as such, we sought to better understand how hydrology, particularly flooding, influences nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) levels. We used a long-term dataset of monthly water quality samples for many Ontario, Canada, catchments to assess the effects of landscape variables, such as land use and physiography, on the export of nutrients during floods, and to characterize overall concentration-discharge patterns. In general, we found that landscape variables could partially explain the export variation in flood waters, but that the importance of specific variables depended on flood characteristics. We also found that overall concentration-discharge relationships for N and P C were positive, but non-linear, with greater concentrations on the rising limb of the hydrograph depending on the nutrient. With these results, we have identified general patterns between nutrients and hydrology, which will be helpful for managing the ecological effects of flooding. Author Keywords: C-Q relationships, Discharge, Export, Flooding, Nutrients, Thresholds
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
wind tunnel and field evaluation of the efficacy of various dust suppressants
A series of experiments was designed to assess the relative efficacy of various dust suppressants to suppress PM10 emissions from nepheline syenite tailings. The experiments were conducted in the Trent University Environmental Wind Tunnel, Peterborough, Ontario, and on the tailings ponds at the Unimin Ltd Nephton mine near Havelock, Ontario. Treated surfaces were subjected to particle-free airflow, abrasion with blown sand particles, particle-free airflow after physical disturbance, and were measured independently using a pin penetrometer. In the particle-free wind tunnel tests, three of the surfaces performed well, and PM10 emissions scaled inversely with crust strength. Light bombardment of each surface by saltating sand grains resulted in PM10 emission rates two orders of magnitude higher. All treated surfaces emitted significantly more PM10 after physical disturbance in both the laboratory and field research. The results suggest that the site conditions, inclusive of the potential for dust advection and resuspension, must be taken into account when considering the use of a commercial dust suppressant. Author Keywords: dust suppression, field testing, mine tailings, wind tunnel experiment
significance of topographically-focused groundwater recharge during winter and spring on the Oak Ridges Moraine, southern Ontario
The Oak Ridges Moraine (ORM) is a key hydrogeologic feature in southern Ontario. Previous work has emphasized the importance of depression-focused recharge (DFR) for the timing and location of groundwater recharge to the ORM’s aquifers. However, the significance of DFR has not been empirically demonstrated and the relative control of land cover, topography, and surficial geology on DFR is unclear. The potential for DFR was examined for topographic depressions under forested and open, agricultural land covers with similar soils and surficial geology. Recharge (R) was estimated at the crest and base of each depression during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 winter-spring periods (~December – May) using both a 1-dimensional water balance approach and a surface-applied Br- tracer. At each depression, air temperatures, precipitation, snow depth and water equivalent, soil water contents, soil freezing, and depression surface-water levels were monitored and soil properties (texture, bulk density, porosity, and hydraulic conductivity) were measured. Both forested and agricultural land covers experienced soil freezing; however, concrete frost did not develop in the more porous and conductive forest soils. Concrete frost in agricultural depressions resulted in overland flow, episodic ponding and drainage of rain-on-snow and snowmelt inputs. Recharge was an order-of-magnitude greater at the base of open depressions. Observations of ponding (as evidence of DFR) were made at an additional 14 depressions with varying land cover, geometry, and soil type during the 2014 snowmelt period and measurements of pond depth, pond volume, land cover (i.e., percentage of agricultural vs. forested cover), depression geometry (i.e., contributing area, average slope, relief ratio) and soil texture were made. Ponding was restricted to depressions under mostly agricultural cover and a positive, non-linear relationship between pond volume and average slope was shown for sites with similar land cover and soil texture, but neither pond depth nor volume were related to any other depression characteristics. Results suggest that DFR is a significant hydrologic process during winter and spring under agricultural land cover on the ORM. Topographic depressions under agricultural land cover on the ORM crest may serve as critical recharge “hot spots” during winter and spring, and the ability of the unsaturated zone beneath these depressions to modify the chemistry of recharging water deserves further attention. Author Keywords: Concrete frost, Depression-focused groundwater recharge, Oak Ridges Moraine, Ponding, Topographic depressions, Water balance
Soil mineralizable nitrogen as an indicator of soil nitrogen supply for grain corn in southwestern Ontario
Soil mineralizable nitrogen (N) is the main component of soil N supply in humid temperate regions and should be considered in N fertilizer recommendations. The objectives of this study were to determine the potentially mineralizable N parameters, and improve N fertilizer recommendations by evaluating a suite of soil N tests in southwestern Ontario. The study was conducted over the 2013 and 2014 growing seasons using 19 field sites across southwestern Ontario. The average potentially mineralizable N (N0) and readily mineralizable N (Pool I) were 147 mg kg-1 and 42 mg kg-1, respectively. Pool I was the only soil N test that successfully predicted RY in 2013. The PPNT and water soluble N (WSN) concentration (0-30cm depth) at planting were the best predictors of fertilizer N requirement when combing data from 2013 and 2014. When soils were categorized based on soil texture, the relationships also improved. Our findings suggest that N fertilizer recommendations for grain corn can be improved, however, further field validations are required. Author Keywords: corn, nitrogen, nitrogen mineralization, soil nitrogen supply, soil N test, southwestern Ontario
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
CO2 dynamics of tundra ponds in the low-Arctic Northwest Territories, Canada
Extensive research has gone into measuring changes to the carbon storage capacity of Arctic terrestrial environments as well as large water bodies in order to determine a carbon budget for many regions across the Arctic. Inland Arctic waters such as small lakes and ponds are often excluded from these carbon budgets, however a handful of studies have demonstrated that they can often be significant sources of carbon to the atmosphere. This study investigated the CO2 cycling of tundra ponds in the Daring Lake area, Northwest Territories, Canada (64°52'N, 111°35'W), to determine the role ponds have in the local carbon cycle. Floating chambers, nondispersive infrared (NDIR) sensors and headspace samples were used to estimate carbon fluxes from four selected local ponds. Multiple environmental, chemical and meteorological parameters were also monitored for the duration of the study, which took place during the snow free season of 2013. Average CO2 emissions for the two-month growing season ranged from approximately -0.0035 g CO2-C m-2 d-1 to 0.12 g CO2-C m-2 d-1. The losses of CO2 from the water bodies in the Daring Lake area were approximately 2-7% of the CO2 uptake over vegetated terrestrial tundra during the same two-month period. Results from this study indicated that the production of CO2 in tundra ponds was positively influenced by both increases in air temperature, and the delivery of carbon from their catchments. The relationship found between temperature and carbon emissions suggests that warming Arctic temperatures have the potential to increase carbon emissions from ponds in the future. The findings in this study did not include ebullition gas emissions nor plant mediated transport, therefore these findings are likely underestimates of the total carbon emissions from water bodies in the Daring Lake area. This study emphasizes the need for more research on inland waters in order to improve our understanding of the total impact these waters may have on the Arctic's atmospheric CO2 concentrations now and in the future. Author Keywords: Arctic, Arctic Ponds, Carbon dioxide, Carbon Fluxes, Climate Change, NDIR sensor


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