Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies, Volume 40

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Using stable isotopes to track hydrological processes at an oil sands mine, Alberta, Canada
Spencer Joseph Chad | S. Lee Barbour | Jeffrey J. McDonnell | J. J. Gibson

This study was conducted at an oil sands operation in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR), northeastern Alberta, Canada. The mine comprises open pit excavation of bituminous sands at two sites (Mildred Lake, ML, and Aurora North, AN), with a single hot-water extraction circuit connecting extraction plants at each mine. Water samples were collected and analyzed regularly over an eight-year period to establish inventories of site-wide water isotope signatures including seasonal and interannual changes in the recycle water circuit, and to permit future application of an isotope balance model to constrain poorly quantified processes such as evaporation losses, dewatering of tailings, and tailings pond connectivity of the recycle water circuit. Sampling of precipitation inputs over an 8-year period was used to constrain a local meteoric water line for the area. Differences in evaporative isotopic enrichment of tailings ponds at ML and AN are attributed to use of Athabasca River makeup water at the former site versus basal dewatering sources at the latter, with similar atmospheric controls at both. A conceptual model is developed summarizing temporal variations in water balance and isotopic signatures within the recycle water circuit, including accurate simulation of the unique isotopic enrichment of cooling tower blowdown. This study provides foundational evidence for application of stable isotope mass balance to monitor and improve industrial water use efficiency and management. • Detailed summary of stable isotope variations at oil sands mine sites. • New dataset for precipitation, makeup water, and mine circuits. • Updated regressions defining local meteoric water line for district. • Contrasts isotopic variations for nearby mine sites with distinct sources. • Previously unpublished effects of cooling tower blowdown.

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Modelling transverse mixing of sediment and vanadium in a river impacted by oil sands mining operations
Karl–Erich Lindenschmidt | Pouya Sabokruhie | Tammy Rosner

The lower Athabasca River was used as a test case using total suspended sediment, chloride and vanadium as the model variables. Upstream model boundary conditions included water from the tributary Clearwater River (right stream tube) and the upper Athabasca River extending upstream of the tributary mouth (left stream tube). This model will be extended to include the Peace-Athabasca Delta (PAD), to determine the implications of mining outfall discharges on a large region of the Athabasca – PAD region. A novel, quasi-two-dimensional surface water-quality modelling approach is presented in which the model domain can be discretised in two dimensions, but a one-dimension solver can still be applied to capture water flow between the discretisation units (segments). The approach requires a river reach to be divided into two stream tubes, along the left and right river sides, with flows exchanging through the segments longitudinally and also laterally between adjacent segments along the two streams. The new method allows the transverse mixing of tributary and outfall water of different constituent concentrations to be simulated along the course of the river. Additional diffuse loading of dissolved vanadium could be determined from the model’s substance balance. A scenario was then simulated in which the transport and fate of vanadium in a floodplain lake and a secondary channel was determined. • Quasi-2D modelling approach proves to be viable for transverse mixing. • Quasi-2D approach allows secondary channels and side lakes to be modelled. • Quasi-2D approach is appropriate to scale up to entire lower Athabasca River reach. • The approach allowed a diffuse loading of dissolved vanadium to be quantified.