Climatic controls on the water balance of a pilot-scale oil sands mining pit lake in the Athabasca oil sands region, Canada

Austin Zabel, Scott J. Ketcheson, Richard M. Petrone

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

    Abstract

    Energy companies in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region in Alberta, Canada are evaluating the viability of incorporating pit lakes into reclamation closure designs to both sequester tailings and re-integrate the mining lease into the broader natural landscape. Lake Miwasin is a pilot-scale oil sands pit lake encompassed by a constructed catchment where the volume of the water cap is not actively managed. This study compared the water balance during the open water season over two consecutive years with contrasting levels of summertime precipitation. The first year had above average rainfall triggering surface water inflow events that diluted the over-winter water volume by ~ 25%. Flushing of the deepest layers of the water column was restricted from May–September as thermal stratification inhibited complete lake mixing. The second year had below average rainfall resulting in minimal surface water inflow and a drop in lake stage of ~ 30 cm. As the constructed catchment lacks both natural water bodies and connectivity to a legacy groundwater system, freshwater additions to the lake during the summer season were governed by rainfall. This research highlights challenges with constructing sustainable reclamation landscapes within a region characterised by variations in interannual and decadal water cycles.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalInternational Journal of Mining, Reclamation and Environment
    DOIs
    Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023

    Keywords

    • Athabasca oil sands
    • hydrology
    • pit lakes
    • reclamation
    • tailings
    • water balance

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