Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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
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
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
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
Geochemistry and Toxicity of a Large Slag Pile and its Drainage Complex in Sudbury, Ontario
This study was designed to determine the geochemistry and potential toxicity of water draining a large slag pile in Sudbury, Ontario, which runs through a pond complex prior to entering Alice Lake. Slag leaching experiments confirmed slag is a source of sulphate, heavy metals (including Fe, Al, Ni, Co, Cu, Zn, Pb, Cr, Mn) and base cations (Ca, K, Mg, Na). Concentrations of most metals draining through slag in column experiments were similar to metal concentrations measured at the base of the slag pile, although base cations, S and pH were much higher, possibly because of water inputs interacting with the surrounding basic glaciolacustrine landscape. The increase in pH rapidly precipitates metals leading to high accumulation in the surface sediments. Away from the base of the pile, an increase in vegetation cover leads to an increase in DOC and nutrients and transport of metals with strong binding affinities (Cu). Total metal concentration in water and sediment exceed provincial water quality guidelines, particularly near the slag pile, however WHAM7 modeling indicated that the free metal ion concentration in water is very low. Nevertheless, toxicity experiments showed that water with greater concentrations of solutes collected close to the slag pile negatively impacts D. magna suggesting that water draining the slag pile can adversely impact biota in nearby drainage areas. Author Keywords: geochemistry, heavy metals, leaching, non-ferrous slag, precipitation, toxicity
Comparison of the Optical Properties of Stratiotes aloids and the Local Plant Community
As part of a mandate to control the spread of Stratiotes aloides (WS; water soldier) in the Trent Severn Waterway, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) created a management plan to eradicate WS. However, one of the biggest challenges in eradicating WS or any invasive aquatic plant is the ability to estimate the extent of its spread and detect new populations. While current detection methods can provide acceptable detection, these methods often require extensive time and effort. The purpose of this thesis was to assess the use optical properties of WS and WS exudates for detection, in order to improve on current detection methods. The optical properties of WS were sampled at three different sites during three different seasons (spring, summer, and fall) by a) randomly sampling tissue from WS and the local plant community at each site, and recording the reflectance properties in a laboratory setting b) collecting dissolved organic matter (DOM) samples from plant incubations and river water in the field. Significant differences in the reflectance properties of WS were observed among samples from different sites and different sampling times; however, changes in fluorescence properties were only seasonal. Despite spatial differences in WS reflectance; WS was detectable using both hyperspectral and multispectral reflectance. When hyperspectral reflectance was used, significant differences between WS and the local plant community were found in June using two bands (i.e. bands 525 and 535, R 2 = 0.46 and 0.48, respectively). Whereas multispectral reflectance was significant different in October using the coastal and blue band. While WS produced a unique signal using both reflectance types, multispectral reflectance had a greater potential for detection. Its greater potential for detection was due to the reduced noise produced by background optical properties in October in comparison to June. DOM derived from WS was also characterized and compared with whole-river DOM samples in order to find unique markers for WS exudates in river samples. While similarities in DOM concentrations of WS exudates to Trent River water limited the ability to detect WS using compositional data, the ratio of C4/C5 components were compared in order to find components that were proportionally similar. Based on the results of this study multispectral and fluorescence techniques are better suited for the detection of a unique WS signature. The results derived from this work are intended to have practical applications in plant management and monitoring, DOM tracing, as well as remote sensing. Author Keywords: Dissolved organic matter, Hyperspectral reflectance, Invasive species management, Multispectral reflectance, PARAFAC, Stratiotes aloides
Influence of nitrogen deposition on the vegetation community of Irish oak woodlands
In this study, the influence of N deposition on the vegetation community of semi-natural oak woodlands in Ireland was assessed through national and regional scale analysis of forest plot data. At both scales, Canonical Correspondence Analysis suggested that N deposition was a predictor of community composition, although site-specific soil characteristics were the strongest predictors of the species dataset. Threshold Indicator Taxon Analysis suggested that the vegetation community demonstrated the most change at 13.2 kg N ha-1 yr-1. While this change point falls within the current recommended critical load range for nutrient nitrogen for acidophilous oak dominated woodlands (10 to 15 kg N ha-1 yr-1), it is notable that 23% of species recorded had individual change points below this range, and could potentially be lost from this habitat if deposition increases. The results from this study suggest that, for acidophilous oak woodlands, habitat conservation policies should be unified with N emission reduction policies. Author Keywords: community composition, critical load, nitrogen depositioin, oak woodland, species richness, Taxon Indicator Threshold Analysis
Spatial and Temporal Variation in Peatland Geochemistry in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
The damage to Sudbury's landscape from over a century of smelter and logging activity has been severe and impacts well documented. However, despite their abundance in the region, wetlands have received little attention. Recent studies have identified that nutrient limitation is as much a problem as metal toxicity and highlighted not only the importance of wetlands but also the need for more detailed studies examining the role of wetlands in the recovery of lakes. The objective of this work is to characterize the spatial and temporal variability in the geochemistry of 18 wetlands (poor fens) surrounding Sudbury, Ontario. Peat and water chemistry in the wetlands exhibited large spatial and temporal variability. Copper and Ni concentrations in surface peat decreased with distance from the largest smelter in the area, but water chemistry was also strongly influenced by natural factors such as climate, groundwater and peat carbon content. Redox processes contribute greatly to temporal variation in pore-water chemistry: the August and October campaigns were characterized by higher SO4, lower pH and higher concentrations of metals such as Ni, Cu and Mn compared with the May campaign. Other factors contributing to the temporal variability in pore water chemistry include DOC production, senescence and water source. Despite the large variability, soil-solution partitioning can be explained by pH alone for some metals. Modeling is significantly improved with the addition of other variables representing dissolved organic matter quality and quantity, sulphate concentration and hydrology. Author Keywords: metal contamination, metal mobility, organic matter quality, peatland geochemistry
Early Responses of Understory Vegetation to Above Canopy Nitrogen Additions in a Jack Pine Stand in Northern Alberta
Abstract Early Responses of Understory Vegetation After One Year of Above Canopy Nitrogen Additions in a Jack Pine Stand in Northern Alberta Nicole Melong Nitrogen (N) emissions are expected to increase in western Canada due to oil and gas extraction operations. An increase in N exposure could potentially impact the surrounding boreal forest, which has adapted and thrived under traditionally low N deposition. The majority of N addition studies on forest ecosystems apply N to the forest floor and often exclude the important interaction of the tree canopy. This research consisted of aerial NH4NO3 spray applications (5, 10, 15, 20, 25 kg N ha-1yr-1) by helicopter to a jack pine (Pinus banksiana Lamb.) stand in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR) in northern Alberta, Canada. The main objective was to assess the impacts of elevated N after one year of treatment on the chemistry of understory vegetation, which included vascular plants, terricolous lichens, epiphytic lichens and a terricolous moss species. Changes in vegetation chemistry are expected to be early signs of stress and possible N saturation. Increased N availability is also thought to decrease plant secondary compound production because of a tradeoff that exists between growth and plant defense compounds when resources become available. Approximately 60% of applied N reached the ground vegetation in throughfall (TF) and stemflow (SF). Nitrate was the dominant form of N in TF in all treated plots and organic N (ON) was the dominant form of N in SF in all plots. The terricolous non-vascular species were the only understory vegetation that responded to the N treatments as N concentration increased with increased treatment. Foliar chemistry of the measured epiphytic lichens, vascular species, and jack pine was unaffected by the N treatments. Based on biomass measurements and N concentration increases, the non-vascular terricolous species appear to be assimilating the majority of TF N after one year. Vegetation from the high treatment plot (25 kg N ha-1yr-1) was compared to a jack pine forest receiving ambient high levels of N (21 kg N ha-1yr-1) due to its proximity to Syncrude mining activities. Nitrogen concentrations in plant tissues did not differ between the two sites; however, other elements and compounds differed significantly (Ca, Mg, Al, Fe). After one year of experimental N application, there were no environmental impacts consistent with the original N saturation hypothesis. Author Keywords: Athabasca Oil Sands Region, Canopy Interactions, Jack Pine, Nitrogen, Secondary Chemistry, Understory Vegetation
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

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