Ecohydrology, Volume 11, Issue 4

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Ecohydrological functioning of an upland undergoing reclamation on post-mining landscape of the Athabasca oil sands region, Canada
Tristan Gingras-Hill | Felix Nwaishi | Merrin L. Macrae | Jonathan S. Price | Richard M. Petrone

Ecohydrological functioning of natural Boreal forest in Canada's Boreal Plains is a product of interactions between soil hydrophysical characteristics and hydrogeochemical processes. These interactions create a moisture–nutrient gradient within the surface soils, increasing along low‐relief transitions from upland to riparian zone, and in turn influence the distribution of vegetation communities. It is not yet known if/when analogous ecohydrological functions can be achieved in constructed uplands following industrial disturbance, such as that following oil sands development. Hence, to assess this, we studied interactions between hydrogeochemical processes and vegetation colonization in a constructed upland relative to hydrophysical properties of 2 reclamation cover substrates during a typical continental climate's growing season. Our results indicated that in 3 years of postconstruction, the establishment of a moisture–nutrient gradient that supports vegetation colonization along slope positions was still limited by heterogeneity of cover substrates. Portions of the upland under peat–mineral mix were characterized by lower nutrient availability, high moisture content, and establishment of planted shrubs and trees. In contrast, forest floor materials plots were characterized by poor soil quality, but higher nutrient availability and greater colonization of invasive grasses and native shrubs. We suggest that the colonization of underdeveloped soils by invasive grasses may facilitate pedogenic processes and thus should be accepted by reclamation managers as a successional milestone in the recovery of ecohydrological functioning of constructed uplands. Poor soil structure under forest floor materials could not support edaphic conditions required by plants to efficiently utilize fertilizer, making this practise futile at the early stage of soil development.

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A hydrogeological landscape framework to identify peatland wildfire smouldering hot spots
Kelly Hokanson | Paul A. Moore | Max Lukenbach | K. J. Devito | Nicholas Kettridge | R. M. Petrone | Carl Mendoza | J. M. Waddington

Northern peatlands are important global carbon stores, but there is concern that these boreal peat reserves are at risk due to increased fire frequency and severity as predicted by climate change models. In a subhumid climate, hydrogeological position is an important control on peatland hydrology and wildfire vulnerability. Consequently, we hypothesized that in a coarse‐textured glaciofluvial outwash, isolated peatlands lacking the moderating effect of large‐scale groundwater flow would have greater water table (WT) variability and would also be more vulnerable to deep WT drawdown and wildfire during dry climate cycles. A holistic approach was taken to evaluate 3 well‐accepted factors that are associated with smouldering in boreal peatlands: hollow microform coverage, peatland margin morphometry, and gravimetric water content. Using a combination of field measurements (bulk density, humification, WT position, hummock–hollow distribution, and margin width) and modelling (1‐D vertical unsaturated flow coupled with a simple peat–fuel energy balance equation), we assessed the vulnerability of peat to smouldering. We found that a peatland in the regionally intermediate topographic position is the most vulnerable to smouldering due to the interaction of variable connectivity to large‐scale groundwater flow and the absence of mineral stratigraphy for limiting WT declines during dry conditions. Our findings represent a novel assessment framework and tool for fire managers by providing a priori knowledge of potential peat smouldering hot spot locations in the landscape to efficiently allocate resources and reduce emergency response time to smouldering events.