Water Quality Research Journal of Canada
Vol. 44 (4): 313 - 322 (2009). General issue
The Use of Carbon and Nitrogen Stable Isotope Analysis to Characterize Food Web Changes in Aquatic Systems for Reclamation of Oil Sands Process-Affected Materials
Monalisa Elshayeb, Michael D. MacKinnon, D George. Dixon, Michael Power
One strategy for reclamation of oil sands leases in northern Alberta is the construction of lakes and wetlands by capping oil sands process-affected material (OSPM) with water. To assess this approach, experimental sites containing a range of OSPM have been constructed to monitor the evolution of the resulting aquatic habitats. Stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen were used to assess the effects of OSPM on aquatic food webs. Carbon and nitrogen isotopic signatures of sediment, dissolved inorganic and organic carbon, particulate organic matter, periphyton, plants, plankton, aquatic invertebrates, and fish were used to assess differences related to the naphthenic acid (NA) concentration in OSPM and reference sites. NAs are a principal contaminant of concern in OSPM. Sites were grouped into low (0 to 4 mg/L), medium (4 to 15 mg/L), and high (>15 mg/L) NA concentrations. There were no significant differences in food web area or length among the three NA groupings. In most cases, carbon isotope analyses of samples from low, medium, and high NA concentration sites were not significantly different, suggesting that OSPM is not a significant contributor to food web carbon sources. Significant differences were found in nitrogen isotope signatures between low, medium, and high NA sites. Ammonia from OSPM is suggested as the main contributor to ä15N enrichment.
aquatic reclamation, carbon, food web, nitrogen, oil sands, stable isotope