, Volume 129, Issue 1–2, pp 1–19 | Cite as

Effects of altered atmospheric nutrient deposition from Alberta oil sands development on Sphagnum fuscum growth and C, N and S accumulation in peat

  • R. Kelman WiederEmail author
  • Melanie A. Vile
  • Cara M. Albright
  • Kimberli D. Scott
  • Dale H. Vitt
  • James C. Quinn
  • Medora Burke-Scoll


Associated with the development of the oil sands resource in northern Alberta, Canada are elevated emissions of NOx and SOx from diesel-fueled vehicle and upgrader stack emissions. Ultimately these emissions are returned to regional terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in the form of elevated atmospheric N and S deposition. About 30 % of the regional landscape is covered with peatlands, including ombrotrophic bogs that receive nutrient inputs solely from the atmosphere. From 2009 to 2014 we examined the effects of N and S deposition on Sphagnum fuscum growth and on recent net accumulation of C, N, and S in peat in six bogs, located between 11 and 251 km from the oil sands industrial center. Averaged across all sites and years, average deposition of NH4 +–N, NO3 –N, DIN, SO4 2−–S, Ca2+, Mg2+, and ortho-P was 0.52, 0.64, 1.17, 7.70, 10.04, 3.29, and 0.15 kg ha−1 year−1. Deposition of NO3 –N, DIN, SO4 2−–S, Ca2+, and Mg2+ decreased exponentially with distance from the industrial center. Averaged across all sites and years, vertical growth and NPP of S. fuscum was 16.6 ± 0.6 mm and 259 ± 9 g m−2 per growing season, increasing exponentially with proximity to the industrial center. Correlations suggested that climatic factors, and in particular late growing season precipitation and the growing season Aridity Index (potential evapotranspiration to precipitation ratio) may be more important than the chemistry of atmospheric deposition in affecting S. fuscum growth. Across all sites and years, net C, N, and S accumulation in peat over the most recent 25 years averaged 67, 1.29, and 0.30 g m−2 year−1 and increased with proximity to the industrial center. Over the past 25–50 years, net C, N, and S accumulation in peat was lower than in surface peat, with only net S accumulation exhibiting an increase with proximity to the industrial center. In a region where bogs have persisted on the landscape for millennia with low atmospheric deposition of elements, changing precipitation chemistry, and in particular elevated deposition of N, S, Ca and Mg, related to oil sands development is influencing bog function, as evidenced by S. fuscum growth and biogeochemical responses.


Atmospheric deposition Bogs Nitrogen Oil sands Peatlands Sphagnum fuscum Sulfur 



This research was supported by the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association. We thank Julie Conrath, Katy Dynarski, Hope Fillingim, Natalie Flinn, Melissa Gingras, Michelle Harris, Melissa House, Jason Labrie, Kelly McMillen, Mikah Schlesinger, Justin Stephens, Julia Stuart, Nathan Thorp, Anita Uche, Brian Whitehouse, Bin Xu, Tyler Yim, and Tatjana Živkovič for field assistance.

Supplementary material

10533_2016_216_MOESM1_ESM.tif (205 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (TIFF 204 kb)
10533_2016_216_MOESM2_ESM.tif (175 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (TIFF 174 kb)


  1. Aerts R, Wallén B, Malmer N (1992) Growth-limiting nutrients in Sphagnum-dominated bogs subject to low and high atmospheric nitrogen supply. J Ecol 80:131–140 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Appleby PG, Oldfield F (1978) The calculation of lead-210 dates assuming a constant rate of supply of unsupported 210Pb to the sediment. Catena 5:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Appleby PG, Oldfield F (1983) The assessment of 210Pb data from sites with varying sediment accumulation rates. Hydrobiologia 103:29–35Google Scholar
  4. Baker RGE, Boatman DJ (1990) Some effects of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and carbon dioxide on the morphology and vegetative reproduction of Sphagnum cuspidatum Ehrh. New Phytol 116:605–611CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bari MD, Kindzierski WB (2015) Fifteen-year trends in criteria air pollutants in oil sands communities of Alberta, Canada. Environ Int 74:200–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bauer I, Bhatti J, Swanston C, Wieder RK, Preston C (2009) Organic matter accumulation and community change at the peatland-upland interface: inferences from 14C and 210Pb dated profiles. Ecosystems 12:636–653CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berendse R, van Breemen N, Rydin H, Buttler A, Heijmans M, Hoosbeer MR, Lee JA, Mitchell E, Saarinen T, Vasander H, Wallén B (2001) Raised atmospheric CO2 levels and increased N deposition cause shifts in plant species composition and production in Sphagnum bogs. Global Chang Biol 7:591–598CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bragazza L, Tahvanainen T, Kutnar L, Rydin H, Limpens J, Hajek M, Grosvernier P, Hajek T, Hajkova P, Hansen I, Iacumin P, Gerdol R (2004) Nutritional constraints in ombrotrophic Sphagnum plants under increasing atmospheric nitrogen deposition in Europe. New Phytol 163:609–616CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brenner M, Schelske CL, Kenney WF (2004) Inputs of dissolved and particulate 226Ra to lakes and implications for 210Pb dating recent sediments. J Paleolimnol 32:53–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bubier J, Moore TR, Bledzki LA (2007) Effects of nutrient addition on vegetation and carbon cycling in an ombrotrophic bog. Global Chang Biol 13:1168–1186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Burke-Scoll MJ (2008) Deposition and accumulation of nitrogen and sulfur in ombrotrophic bogs in the Ft. McMurray, Alberta, region. M.S. thesis, Villanova UniversityGoogle Scholar
  12. Canadian Climate Normals (2016) 1981–2010, Environment Canada. Accessed 8 Feb 2016
  13. CAPP (2014) Responsible Canadian Energy, 2014 Progress Report. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, CalgaryGoogle Scholar
  14. CAPP (2015) Crude Oil: Forecasts, Markets & Transportation. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, CalgaryGoogle Scholar
  15. CAPP (2016) Technical Report - Statistical Handbook for Canada's Upstream Petroleum Industry. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, CalgaryGoogle Scholar
  16. Carfrae JA, Sheppard LJ, Raven JA, Leith ID, Crossley A (2007) Potassium and phosphorus additions modify the response of Sphagnum capillifolium growing on a Scottish ombrotrophic bog to enhanced nitrogen deposition. Appl Geochem 22:1111–1121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Clow DW, Roop HA, Nanus L, Fenn ME, Sexstone GA (2015) Spatial patterns of atmospheric deposition of nitrogen and sulfur using ion-exchange resin collectors in Rocky Mountain National Park. Atmos Environ 101:149–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Clymo RS (1970) The growth of Sphagnum: methods of measurement. J Ecol 58:13–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Clymo RS (1973) The growth of Sphagnum: some effects of environment. J Ecol 61:849–869CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Davies MJE (2012) Air quality modeling in the Athabasca oil sands region. In: Percy KE (ed) Alberta oil sands: energy, industry and the environment. Developments in environmental science, vol 11. Elsevier, Oxford, pp 267–309Google Scholar
  21. Dorrepaal E, Aerts R, Cornelissen JHC, Callaghan TV, van Logtestijn RSP (2003) Summer warming and increased winter snow cover affect Sphagnum fuscum growth, structure and production in a sub-arctic bog. Global Chang Biol 10:93–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fang Y, Yoh M, Koba K, Zhu W, Takebayashi Y, Xiao Y, Lei C, Mo J, Zhang W, Lu X (2011) Nitrogen deposition and forest nitrogen cycling along an urban-rural transect in southern China. Global Change Biol 17:872–885CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fenn ME, Poth MA (2004) Monitoring nitrogen deposition in through fall using ion exchange resin columns: a field test in the San Bernardino Mountains. J Environ Qual 33:2007–2014CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fenn ME, Poth MA, Arbaugh AJ (2002) A throughfall collection method using mixed bed ion exchange resin columns. Scient World J 2:122–130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fenn ME, Blubaugh T, Alexander D, Jones D (2003) Using ion exchange resins to monitor throughfall and bulk deposition to forests. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station. Accessed 8 Feb 2016
  26. Fenn ME, Bytnerowicz A, Schilling SL, Ross CS (2015) Atmospheric deposition of nitrogen, sulfur and base cations in jack pine stands in the Athabasca oil sands region, Alberta, Canada. Environ Pollut 196:497–510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ferguson P, Lee JA (1979) The effects of bisulphite and sulphate upon photosynthesis in Sphagnum. New Phytol 82:703–712CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ferguson P, Lee JA (1980) Some effects of bisulphate and sulphate on the growth of Sphagnum in the field. Environ Pollut 21:58–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ferguson P, Lee JA, Bell N (1978) Effects of sulfur pollution on the growth of Sphagnum species. Environ Pollut 16:151–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fritz C, van Dijk G, Smolders AJP, Pancotto VA, Elzenga TJTM, Roelofs JGM, Grootjans AP (2012) Nutrient additions in pristine Patagonian Sphagnum bog vegetation: can phosphorus addition alleviate (the effects of) increased nitrogen loads. Plant Biol 14:491–499CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gignac LD, Vitt DH (1994) Responses of northern peatlands to climate change: effects on bryophytes. J Hattori Bot Club 75:119–132Google Scholar
  32. Global Forest Watch Canada (2008) Oil sands surface mining activity in Alberta, Canada up to 2008. Accessed 8 Feb 2016
  33. Golder Associates (2003) Evaluation of historic and future acid deposition effects on soils in the Athabasca oil sands region. In: Final Report submitted to the NOx-SOx Management Working Group, Cumulative Environmental Management Association, Fort McMurrayGoogle Scholar
  34. Gore AJP (1961) Factors limiting plant growth on high-level blanket peat. I. Calcium and phosphate. J Ecol 49:399–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Graney JR, Landis MS, Krupa S (2012) Coupling lead isotopes and element concentrations in epiphytic lichens to track sources of air emissions in the Athabasca oil sands region. In: Percy KE (ed) Alberta oil sands: energy, industry and the environment. Developments in environmental science, vol 11. Elsevier, Oxford, pp 343–372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gunnarsson U (2005) Global patterns of Sphagnum productivity. J Bryol 27:269–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Gunnarsson U, Rydin H (2000) Nitrogen fertilization reduces Sphagnum production in bog communities. New Phytol 147:527–537CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hájek T (2013) Physiological ecology of peatland bryophytes. In: Hansen DT, Rice SK (eds) Photosynthesis in Bryophytes and early land plants, advances in photosynthesis and respiration 37. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 233–252Google Scholar
  39. Hargreaves GH, Allen RG (2003) History and evaluation of Hargreaves evapotranspiration equation. J Irrig Drain Eng 129:53–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hoosbeek MR, van Breemen N, Vasander H, Buttler A, Berendse F (2002) Potassium limits potential growth of bog vegetation underelevated atmospheric CO2 and N deposition. Global Change Biol 8:1130–1138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Howell SG, Clarke AD, Freitag S, McNaughton CS, Kapustin V, Brekovskikh V, Jiminez J-L, Cubison MJ (2014) An airborne assessment of atmospheric particulate emissions from the processing of Athabasca oil sands. Atmos Chem Phys 14:5073–5087CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hsu Y-M, Harner T, Li H, Fellin P (2015) PAH measurements in air in the Athabasca oil sands region. Environ Sci Technol 49:5584–5592 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Köhler S, Jungkunst HF, Gutzler C, Herrera R, Gerold G (2012) Atmospheric ionic deposition in tropical sites on central Sulawesi determined by ion exchange resin collectors and bulk water collector. Water Air Soil Pollut 223:4485–4494CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lamers LPM, Bobbink R, Roelofs JGM (2000) Natural nitrogen filter fails in raised bogs. Global Change Biol 6:583–586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Landis MS, Pancras JP, Graney JR, Stevens RK, Percy KE, Krupa S (2012) Receptor modeling of epiphytic lichens to elucidate the sources and spatial distribution of inorganic air pollution in the Athabasca oil sands region. In: Percy KE (ed) Alberta oil sands: energy, industry and the environment. Developments in environmental science, vol 11. Elsevier, Oxford, pp 427–446CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lee P, Cheng R (2009) Bitumen and biocarbon: land use conversions and loss of biological carbon due to bitumen operations in the Boreal Forests of Alberta, Canada. Global Forest Watch Canada, EdmontonGoogle Scholar
  47. Limpens J, Berendse F (2003) Growth reduction of Sphagnum magellanicum subjected to high nitrogen deposition: the role of amino acid nitrogen concentration. Oecologia 135:339–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Limpens J, Berendse F, Klees H (2003) N deposition affects N availability in interstitial water, growth of Sphagnum and invasion of vascular plants in bog vegetation. New Phytol 157:339–347CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Limpens J, Berendse F, Klees H (2004) How phosphorus availability affects the impact of nitrogen deposition on Sphagnum and vascular plants in bogs. Ecosystems 7:793–804CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Limpens J, Heijmans MMPD, Berendse F (2006) Nitrogen in boreal peatlands. In: Wieder RK, Vitt DH (eds) Boreal peatland ecosystems, Ecological Studies Series, vol 188. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, pp 195–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Mattson S, Koulter-Andersson E (1954) Geochemistry of a raised bog. Kungl Lantbrukshögskolans Annaler 21:323–366Google Scholar
  52. Mattson S, Koulter-Andersson E (1955) Geochemistry of a raised bog. II Some nitrogen relationships. Kungl Lantbrukshögskolans Annaler 22:219–224Google Scholar
  53. Moore T, Blodau C, Turunen J, Roulet N, Richards PJH (2004) Patterns of nitrogen and sulfur accumulation and retention in ombrotrophic bogs, eastern Canada. Global Change Biol 11:356–367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Percy KE, Hansen MC, Dann T (2012) Air quality in the Athabasca oil sands region 2011. In: Percy KE (ed) Alberta oil sands: energy, industry and the environment. Developments in environmental science, vol 11. Elsevier, Oxford, pp 47–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Proemse BC, Mayer B, Fenn ME (2012) Tracing industrial sulfur emissions in atmospheric sulfate deposition in the Athabasca oil sands region, Alberta, Canada. Appl Geochem 27:2425–2434CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Schuster JK, Harner T, Su K, Mihele C, Eng A (2015) First results from the oil sands passive air monitoring network for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Environ Sci Technol 49:2991–2998CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sheng Q, Yu G, Jiang C, Yan J, Liu Y, Wang S, Wang B, Zhang J, Wang C, Zhou M, Jia B (2013) Monitoring nitrogen deposition in typical forest ecosystems along a large transect in China. Environ Monit Assess 185:833–844CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Shotyk W, Belland R, Duke J, Kempter H, Krachler M, Noernberg T, Pelletier R, Vile MA, Wieder K, Zaccone C, Zhang S (2014) Sphagnum mosses from 21 ombrotrophic bogs in the Athabasca bituminous sands region show no significant atmospheric contamination of “heavy metals”. Environ Sci Technol 48:12603–12611CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Simkin SM, Lewis DN, Weathers KC, Lovett GM, Schwarz K (2004) Determination of sulfate, nitrate, and chloride in throughfall using ion-exchange resins. Water Air Soil Pollut 153:344–353CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Studabaker WB, Krupa S, Jayanty RKM, Raymer JH (2012) Measurement of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in epiphytic lichens for receptor modeling in the Athabasca oil sands region (AOSR): a pilot study. In: Percy KE (ed) Alberta oil sands: energy, industry and the environment. Developments in environmental science, vol 11. Elsevier, Oxford, pp 391–425Google Scholar
  61. Tipping E, Benham S, Boyle JF, Crow P, Davies J, Fischer U, Guyatt H, Helliwell R, Jackson-Blake L, Lawlor AJ, Monteith DT, Rowe EC, Toberman H (2014) Atmospheric deposition of phosphorus to land and freshwater. Environ Sci Processes Impacts 16:1608–1617CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tuloss EM, Cadenasso ML (2015) Nitrogen deposition across scales: hotspots and gradients in a California grassland landscape. Ecosphere 6:167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Turetsky MR, Wieder RK, Williams CJ (2000) Organic matter accumulation, peat chemistry, and permafrost melting in peatlands of boreal Alberta. Écoscience 7:379–392Google Scholar
  64. Turetsky MR, Wieder RK, Vitt DH, Evans RJ, Scott KD (2007) The disappearance of relict permafrost in boreal regions: effects on peatland carbon storage and fluxes. Global Change Biol 13:1922–1934CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Turunen J (2003) Past and present carbon accumulation in undisturbed boreal and subarctic mires: a review. Suo 54:15–28Google Scholar
  66. USEIA (2014) Canada—International energy data and analysis. U.S. Energy Information Administration, last updated, 30 November 2015. Accessed 8 Feb 2016
  67. van Belle G, Fisher LD, Heagerty PJ, Lumley T (2004) Biostatistics, a methodology for the health sciences, Second Ed. Wiley-Interscience, Hoboken, New Jersey, p 894Google Scholar
  68. van Dam D, Heil GW, Heijne B (1987) Throughfall chemistry of grassland vegetation: a new method with ion-exchange resins. Funct Ecol 1:423–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Vile MA, Wieder RK, Živkovic T, Scott KD, Vitt DH, Hartsock JA, Iosue CL, Quinn JC, Petix M, Fillingim HM, Popma JMA, Dynarski KA, Jackman TR, Albright CM, Wykoff DD (2014) N2-fixation by methanotrophs sustains carbon and nitrogen accumulation in pristine peatlands. Biogeochemistry 121:317–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Vitt D, Halsey LA, Thormann MM, Martin T (1996) Peatland Inventory of Alberta. Phase I: Overview of peatland resources of the natural regions and subregions of the province. National Centres of Excellence in Sustainable Forest Management, University of Alberta, EdmontonGoogle Scholar
  71. Vitt DH, Halsey LA, Bauer IE, Campbell C (2000) Spatial and temporal trends of carbon sequestration in peatlands of continental western Canada through the Holocene. Can J Earth Sci 37:683–693CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Vitt DH, Wieder RK, Halsey LA, Turetsky MR (2003) Response of Sphagnum fuscum to nitrogen deposition: a case study of ombrogenous peatlands in Alberta, Canada. The Bryologist 106:235–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Wagner DJ, Titus JE (1984) Comparative desiccation tolerance of two Sphagnum mosses. Oecologia 62:182–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Walbridge MR, Navaratnam JA (2006) Phosphorus in boreal peatlands. In: Wieder RK, Vitt DH (eds) Boreal peatland ecosystems. Springer, Amsterdam, pp 231–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Wang XL, Watson JG, Chow JC, Kohl SD, Chen L-WA, Sodeman DA, Legge AH, Percy KE (2012) Measurement of real-world stack emissions with a dilution sampling system. In: Percy KE (ed) Alberta oil sands: energy, industry and the environment. Developments in environmental science, vol 11. Elsevier, Oxford, pp 171–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Watmough SA, Whitfield CJ, Fenn ME (2014) The importance of atmospheric base cation deposition for preventing soil acidification in the Athabasca oil sands region of Canada. Sci Total Environ 493:1–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Wieder RK (2006) Primary production in boreal peatlands. In: Wieder RK, Vitt DH (eds) Boreal peatland ecosystems. Springer, Amsterdam, pp 145–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Wieder RK, Novák M, Schell WR, Rhodes T (1994) Rates of peat accumulation over the past 200 years in five Sphagnum-dominated peatlands in the United States. J Paleolimnol 12:35–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wieder RK, Scott KD, Kamminga K, Vile MA, Vitt DH, Bone T, Xu B, Benscoter BW, Bhatti JS (2009) Post-fire carbon balance in boreal bogs of continental, western Canada. Global Change Biol 15:63–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Wieder RK, Vitt DH, Burke-Scoll M, Scott KD, House M, Vile MA (2010) Nitrogen and sulphur deposition and the growth of Sphagnum fuscum in bogs of the Athabasca oil sands region, Alberta. J Limnol 69:161–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wiedermann MM, Nordin A, Gunnarsson U, Nilsson MB, Ericson L (2007) Global change shifts vegetation and plant-parasite interactions in a boreal mire. Ecology 88:454–464CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Winter TC, Woo MK (1990) Plate 2. Distribution of the difference between precipitation and open-water evapotranspiration in North America. In Wolman MG, Riggs HC (eds) Surface water hydrology. The geology of North America, vol (0–1), Geological Society of America, BoulderGoogle Scholar
  83. Yu Z, Loisel J, Brosseau DP, Beilman DW, Hunt SJ (2010) Global peatland dynamics since the Last Glacial Maximum. Geophys Res Lett 37:L13402. doi: 10.1029/2010GL043584 Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Kelman Wieder
    • 1
    Email author
  • Melanie A. Vile
    • 1
    • 2
  • Cara M. Albright
    • 1
  • Kimberli D. Scott
    • 1
  • Dale H. Vitt
    • 3
  • James C. Quinn
    • 1
  • Medora Burke-Scoll
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyVillanova UniversityVillanovaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Geography and the EnvironmentVillanova UniversityVillanovaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Plant BiologySouthern Illinois UniversityCarbondaleUSA

Personalised recommendations