, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 1–14 | Cite as

Forest Fertilization Associated with Oil Sands Emissions

  • Shaun A. WatmoughEmail author
  • Adam Bird
  • Andrew McDonough
  • Eric Grimm


The Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, is one of the largest point sources emitters of NOx and SO2 in Canada, and there have been widespread concerns over potential ecosystem acidification owing to the acid sensitivity of the base-poor sandy soils in the region. In this study we compared soil and vegetation properties at a jack pine (Pinus banksiana Lamb) forest adjacent to one of the largest mines in the region with a jack pine stand located approximately 15 km from the mine. At the site closest to the mine, throughfall deposition of SO4-S and DIN (NO3 + NH4) exceeds 30 and 20 kg ha−1 y−1, respectively, compared with less than 9 kg ha−1 y−1 for SO4-S and less than 2 kg ha−1 y−1 DIN at the distant site. However, on an equivalence basis, base cation (Ca + Mg + Na) deposition in throughfall at both sites exceeded the combined S and N deposition. Total S and N as well as Ca and Mg concentrations in epiphytic lichens and tree bark were significantly higher at the site adjacent to the mine, reflecting the higher acidic and base cation throughfall deposition. The forest floor at the stand close to the mine had a significantly higher pH, exchangeable Ca, Mg, K and total S concentrations compared with the distant site. The chemistry of deeper mineral soil horizons was more consistent between the two sites. Foliar concentrations of S, Ca, Mg, Fe and Al in jack pine, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, Vaccinium myrtilloides and Arctostaphylos uva-ursi were also higher at the site close to the mine, but these differences were not always significant. Coincidental with differences in atmospheric deposition, herbaceous cover and biomass, especially A. uva-ursi, was significantly higher, and terricolous lichen cover was several fold lower at the site closest to the mine. This work indicates that despite high S and N emissions from oil sands activities, forest fertilization and alkalization may be of greater concern than acidification owing to large dust emissions from the mines and the Acid Deposition Management Framework for the region should be modified accordingly.


oil sands forests acidification eutrophication alkalization lichens 



This work was funded by CEMA (Cumulative Environmental Management Association) and a NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) Discovery grant awarded to Shaun Watmough. The authors acknowledge the assistance of Liana Orlovskaya and Jaqueline London for analytical assistance and several Trent University undergraduates for help with fieldwork and laboratory analyses. We would also like to thank Syncrude for access to the forest stand close to the mine.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shaun A. Watmough
    • 1
    Email author
  • Adam Bird
    • 2
  • Andrew McDonough
    • 2
  • Eric Grimm
    • 3
  1. 1.Trent School of the EnvironmentTrent UniversityPeterboroughCanada
  2. 2.Environmental and Life Sciences Graduate ProgramTrent UniversityPeterboroughCanada
  3. 3.Environmental Resource StudiesTrent UniversityPeterboroughCanada

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