Snow hydrology of a constructed watershed in the Athabasca oil sands region, Alberta, Canada

Scott J. Ketcheson, Jonathan S. Price

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

    22 Citations (Scopus)


    Wetlands are now being integrated into oil sands mining landscape closure design plans. These wetland ecosystems will be constructed within a regional sub-humid climate where snowfall represents ~25% of annual precipitation. However, few studies focus on the distribution of snow and, hence, the storage of winter precipitation in reclaimed oil sands landscapes. In this study, the distribution, ablation and fate of snowmelt waters are quantified within a constructed watershed in a post-mining oil sands environment. Basin-averaged peak SWE was 106 mm, with no significant difference between reclaimed slopes with vegetation and those that were sparsely vegetated or bare. Snow depth was greatest and more variable near the toe of slopes and became progressively shallower towards the crest. Snow ablation started first on the vegetated slope, which also exhibited the maximum observed ablation rates. This enhanced melt was attributed to increased absorption of short-wave radiation by vegetation stems and branches. Recharge to reclaimed slopes and a constructed aquifer during the snowmelt period was minimal, as the presence of ground frost minimized infiltration. Accordingly, substantial surface run-off was observed from all reclaimed slopes, despite being designed to reduce run-off and increase water storage. This could result in increased flashiness of downstream watercourses during the spring freshet that receive run-off from post-mining landscapes where large reclaimed slopes are prolific. Run-off ratios for the reclaimed slopes were between 0.7 and 0.9. Thus, it is essential to consider snow dynamics when designing landscape-scale constructed ecosystems. This research demonstrates that the snowmelt period hydrology within reclaimed landscapes is fundamentally different from that reported for natural settings and represents one of the first studies on snow dynamics in constructed watershed systems in the post-mined oil sands landscape.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2546-2561
    Number of pages16
    JournalHydrological Processes
    Issue number14
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul. 2016


    • oil sands
    • reclamation
    • snow hydrology
    • watershed hydrology
    • wetland creation


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