Environmental monitoring and assessment

Characterizing baseline concentrations, proportions, and processes controlling deposition of river-transported bitumen-associated polycyclic aromatic compounds at a floodplain lake (Slave River Delta, Northwest Territories, Canada).

PMID 27071660


Inadequate knowledge of baseline conditions challenges ability for monitoring programs to detect pollution in rivers, especially where there are natural sources of contaminants. Here, we use paleolimnological data from a flood-prone lake ("SD2", informal name) in the Slave River Delta (SRD, Canada), ∼ 500 km downstream of the Alberta oil sands development and the bitumen-rich McMurray Formation to identify baseline concentrations and proportions of "river-transported bitumen-associated indicator polycyclic aromatic compounds" (indicator PACs; Hall et al. 2012) and processes responsible for their deposition. Results show that indicator PACs are deposited in SD2 by Slave River floodwaters in concentrations that are 45 % lower than those in sediments of "PAD31compounds", a lake upstream in the Athabasca Delta that receives Athabasca River floodwaters. Lower concentrations at SD2 are likely a consequence of sediment retention upstream as well as dilution by sediment influx from the Peace River. In addition, relations with organic matter content reveal that flood events dilute concentrations of indicator PACs in SD2 because the lake receives high-energy floods and the lake sediments are predominantly inorganic. This contrasts with PAD31 where floodwaters increase indicator PAC concentrations in the lake sediments, and concentrations are diluted during low flood influence intervals due to increased deposition of lacustrine organic matter. Results also show no significant differences in concentrations and proportions of indicator PACs between pre- (1967) and post- (1980s and 1990 s) oil sands development high flood influence intervals (t = 1.188, P = 0.279, d.f. = 6.136), signifying that they are delivered to the SRD by natural processes. Although we cannot assess potential changes in indicator PACs during the past decade, baseline concentrations and proportions can be used to enhance ongoing monitoring efforts.

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