Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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Patterns of Vegetation Succession on Nickel-Copper Mine Tailings near Sudbury, Ontario
Natural establishment of vegetation on mine tailings is generally limited. Understanding the processes leading to vegetation germination and the survival mechanisms that vegetation species employ in these harsh environments is critical to future remediation efforts. As metalliferous mine tailings are generally nutrient-poor, high in harmful metals, and acidic, vegetation species require distinct mechanisms to germinate and survive in such harsh environments. In this study, edaphic and biotic factors linked to vegetation establishment and diversity were studied at two nickel-copper (Ni-Cu) tailings sites near Sudbury, Ontario. One site had experienced minimal treatment, and the second site was split into partial (hand-distribution of lime) and full (lime, fertilizer, seeding) treatment areas. Tailings were generally acidic, low in organic matter and “available” nutrients, and high in metals such as Al, Cu, Fe, and Ni, but these physical and chemical properties were extremely spatially variable. At both sites, vegetation was distributed in sparse patches, with the greatest diversity in treated areas. There was no clear link between metals and vegetation establishment/diversity at the sites. The primary limiting nutrients on the tailings were phosphorous (P) and potassium (K), and while there were areas of increased soil fertility at the sites, they were not clearly associated with increased vegetation diversity. Both traditional ecological succession and nucleation succession patterns were observed on the site, and the chief species associated with nucleation were primary colonizing trees such as B. papyrifera and P. tremuloides. The relationship between B. papyrifera nutrient retranslocation and tailings restoration was assessed and while B. papyrifera at the sites were deficient in P and K, the trees efficiently retranslocated both P and K during senescence. This research can provide insight into possibilities for future revegetation of similar tailings, enabling industry to make educated decisions when choosing where and how to revegetate, mimicking natural succession patterns. Author Keywords: Acid-mine drainage, Betula papyrifera, ecosystem health, metals, Sudbury, tailings
Influence of Canopy Water Partitioning on the Isotopic Signature of Plant Water in a Mixed Northern Forest
This study seeks to clarify the way in which the differing canopy characteristics among tree species influence the partitioning of precipitation, and therefore the source of water available for plant water uptake, in the Plastic Lake catchment near Dorset, ON. Three dominant tree species were compared: red oak (Quercus rubra), eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Above-canopy precipitation, throughfall, stemflow, and soil water content were monitored weekly from June 2016 until October 2016 and the 18O and 2H isotopic signatures of each were analyzed. Plant water and bulk soil water samples were also collected from five trees of each species at five stages of the growing season to compare the isotopic signature of xylem water to that of their surrounding soils. Both plant water and bulk soil water displayed evidence of isotopic fractionation; however, plant water was more depleted in δ2H and δ18O than bulk soil water. Water interacting with the tree canopies as throughfall and stemflow did not display significant evidence of isotopic fractionation. This suggests that the vegetation could have accessed an isotopically distinct source of water stored within the soil or that an unknown isotopic fractionation process occurred throughout this study. Author Keywords:
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
Calcium in the Muskoka River Watershed- Patterns, trends, the potential impact of forest harvesting and steps toward an ecosystem approach to mitigation
Decreasing lake calcium (Ca) concentration, in lakes located in base poor catchments of the Muskoka River Watershed (MRW) in south-central Ontario, is a well- established acid-rain driven legacy effect threatening the health and integrity of aquatic ecosystems that can be compounded by additional Ca removals through forest harvesting. The objectives of this thesis were to assess patterns and temporal trends in key water chemistry parameters for a set of lakes in forested catchments in the MRW in south- central Ontario, to predict the pre-industrial steady state lake Ca concentration and the potential impact of harvesting on lake Ca levels in lakes located in managed MRW Crown forests, and to assess potential effects of various mitigation strategies in Ca depleted managed forests. Mean lake Ca (mg L-1) in 104 lakes across the MRW have decreased by 30% since the 1980's with the rate of decrease slowing over time. Mean Lake SO4 (mg L-1), and Mg (mg L-1) concentration also decreased significantly with time (37% and 29%, respectively) again with a declining rate of decrease, while mean lake pH and DOC increased significantly between the 1980's and the 1990's (16% and 12%, respectively) but exhibited no significant pattern after that. Principal components and GIS spatial analyses of 75 lakes with data from 2011 or 2012 water seasons suggested that smaller lakes, at higher elevation in smaller catchments with higher runoff and minimally impacted by the influence of roads and agriculture are associated with lower Ca concentrations and thus are the lakes at risk of amplified Ca depletion from forest harvesting. Spatial analyses of harvested catchments indicated that, under the proposed 10 year land forest management cut volumes, 38% of 364 lakes in the MRW will fall below the critical 1 mg L-1 Ca threshold compared with 8% in the absence of future harvesting. With respect to potential mitigation measures, soil pH and foliar Ca were indicated by meta-analysis to be more responsive to lime addition studies while soil base saturation and tree growth appeared more responsive to wood-ash addition. Future research should address the spatial extent of lakes at risk and identify when critical levels will be reached under harvesting regimes. Further investigation into the use of Ca-addition as a tool for managing the cumulative effects of past, present and future stressors is recommended. Author Keywords: calcium, harvesting, lakes, lime, Muskoka River Watershed, wood-ash
Passive sampling of indoor and outdoor atmospheric nitrogen dioxide in the greater Toronto area
The reliability and performance of four passive sampler membrane coatings specific to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were evaluated through co-exposure at multiple Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (OMOECC) active monitoring stations. All four coatings performed relatively similar under a wide range of meteorological conditions, notably showing exposure-specific atmospheric uptake rates. Further, indoor and outdoor atmospheric concentrations of NO2 (a marker of traffic-related air pollution) were evaluated at multiple elementary schools in a high-density traffic region of Toronto, Ontario, using a Triethanolamine based passive sampler membrane coating. Samplers were also co-exposed at OMOECC active monitoring stations to facilitate calibration of exposure-specific atmospheric uptake rates. Indoor NO2 atmospheric concentrations were 40 to 50% lower than outdoor concentrations during the spring−summer and autumn−winter periods, respectively. In large cities such as Toronto (Population 2,700,000), the influence of a single major road on outdoor and indoor NO2 concentrations is predominantly masked by spatially-extensive high-density traffic. Author Keywords: active sampler, membrane coating type, nitrogen dioxide, passive sampler, Toronto, traffic density
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
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)
Regional Assessment of Soil Calcium Weathering Rates and the Factors that Influence Lake Calcium in the Muskoka River Catchment, Central Ontario
(MRC) in central Ontario was carried out to determine the range and spatial distribution of soil Ca weathering rates, and investigate the relationships between lake Ca and soil and catchment attributes. The MRC is acid-sensitive, and has a long history of impacts from industrial emission sources in Ontario and the United States. Small headwater catchments were sampled for soil and landscape attributes (e.g. elevation, slope, catchment area) at 84 sites. Soil Ca weathering rates, estimated with the PROFILE model, were low throughout the region (average: 188 eq/(ha·yr)) compared to global averages, and lower than Ca deposition (average: 292 eq/(ha·yr)). Multiple linear regression models of lake Ca (n= 306) were dominated by landscape variables such as elevation, which suggests that on a regional scale, landscape variables are better predictors of lake Ca than catchment soil variables. Author Keywords: Calcium, Lakes, Regional assessment, Regression, Soils, Weathering
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
An Assessment of Spatial Trends in the Accumulation of Oil Sands Related Metals in the Clearwater River Valley and Temporal Trends in Six Northern Saskatchewan Lakes
The objective of this thesis was to assess current spatial trends and historic trends in the accumulation of trace metals related to the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR). The AOSR hosts some of the largest industrial developments in Canada, yet relatively little is known about the transport and fate of trace metal emissions from the region – particularly in the relatively remote areas to the east of the AOSR. Lichens are widely used as biomonitors and are employed in this thesis to assess the range of metals deposition within the Clearwater River and Athabasca River Valleys. Lake sediment cores can retain a historical record of the long-range transport and deposition of metals but can also respond to large regional metal emissions sources. This thesis used lake sediment cores to assess temporal trends in metals accumulation in six road accessible lakes in NW Saskatchewan that are likely to be used by local residents. Results show that metal concentrations (V, Co, Cu, Ni, Pb, Zn, Zr and Cd ) in lichen decline exponentially with distance from the AOSR and approach background levels within a few kilometers . Results from lake sediment cores show that there was no evidence that metal concentrations had increased due to industrial activities in the AOSR. Author Keywords: Air Emissions, Lakes, Lichens, Oil Sands, Saskatchewan, Trace Metals
Impact of Invasive Earthworms on Soil Respiration and Soil Carbon within Temperate Hardwood Forests
Improving current understanding of the factors that control soil carbon (C) dynamics in forest ecosystems remains an important topic of research as it plays an integral role in the fertility of forest soils and the global carbon cycle. Invasive earthworms have the potential to alter soil C dynamics, though mechanisms and effects remain poorly understood. To investigate potential effects of invasive earthworms on forest C the forest floor, mineral soil, fine root biomass, litterfall and litter decomposition rates and total soil respiration (TSR) over a full year were measured at two invaded and one uninvaded deciduous forest sites in southern Ontario. The uninvaded site was approximately 300m from one of the invaded sites and a distinct invasion front between the sites was present. Along the invasion front, the biomass of the forest floor was negatively correlated with earthworm abundance and biomass. There was no significant difference between litterfall, litter decomposition and TSR between the invaded and uninvaded sites, but fine root biomass was approximately 30% lower at the invaded site. There was no significant difference in soil C pools between the invaded and uninvaded sites. Despite profound impacts on forest floor soil C pools, earthworm invasion does not significantly increase TSR, most likely because increased heterotrophic respiration associated with earthworms is largely offset by a decrease in autotrophic respiration caused by lower fine root biomass. Author Keywords: Biological Invasions, Carbon, Earthworms, Forest Ecosystems, Forest Floor, Soil Respiration
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

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