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Addressing Key Alberta Ecoregions

Determining the redistribution and storage of water between and among forested hillslopes, wetlands and watercourses is key to understanding water quantity and quality at a larger scale. Although the topography of Canada’s Western Boreal Plain (WBP) is generally low relief, erosional remnant upland landforms (aka northern Alberta's "Mountains"!) are scattered throughout. Despite their relatively small areal extent, these boreal uplands may have a disproportionately large hydrological, and potentially biogeochemical, impact. However, the intricacies of these processes within key landscape units remain unknown.

The overall goal of this research program is to understand the underlying landscape and hydrological processes that control ecosystem functions and water quantity and quality within forestlands, wetlands, streams and rivers within the lower Athabasca River Basin (ARB).

SMHCO

Determining the hydrological and geochemical function of headwater catchments and their importance for water availability in the Athabasca River Basin

SMHCO comprises 5 small (<10 km2) wetland-dominated headwater catchments atop a Boreal Upland ~40 km south of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Measurements throughout the SMHCO include streamflow, hillslope-wetland water exchanges (via spatially-distributed measurements of soil moisture, water table elevation, groundwater temperature and conductivity, rainfall) and water chemistry (Total mercury (THg), methylmercury (MeHg), major ions, and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations. 

Extensive Deployment of Innovative 'Low Power Wide Area Sensor Network' (LPWAN) Technology

In collaboration with RioT technology, AU Hydrology has established an extensive network of innovative sensor network technologies. This allows for long term and continuous monitoring in areas otherwise hard to reach. At the forefront of its implementation, the group plans to expand and refine the use of this technology for environmental monitoring.

LPWAN Deployment

  • One “mote” (slave) comprises a standalone cluster of SDI-12 sensors and a radio communication device

  • Includes groundwater level (or stream stage), temperature and EC, soil moisture content and rainfall

  • A central “gateway” (master, on 10 m tower) receives data transmissions from the motes

  • Data from gateway stored on logger with telemetry

  • Communication distances between mote and gateway of up to 1.9 km currently being tested

Real World Field Measurements

Enthusiastic and collaborative field work supplements remote monitoring data. With a focus on mentoring future researchers and public engagement Au Hydrology aims to better equip scientists and managers with the right tools to better protect our water security.

Understanding Fundamental Underlying Hydrology

The lab group is trying to establish the key hydrological connections within and across these important headwater wetlands. Connections between landscape units, such as those between hillslopes and peatlands can govern water availability, nutrient and contaminant exchanges and overall ecosystem health. SMHCO has monitoring of discharge, water level, biogeochemistry, soil parameters, rainfall through a range of industry leading techniques.

Biogeochemical Processes

Wetlands are crucial to the fate of potentially dangerous chemicals in the environment. SMHCO specifically characterises the accumulation, transformation and transport of Hg. Combination sampling of well, hillslope runoff and soil cores for Hg, major ions and isotope tracers are employed to quantify this dangerous chemical. Comprehensive methodology can predict methylation and demethylation rates, total available Hg and MeHg%. When combined with SMHCO hydroconnectivity data strong risk managament strategies can be devised to protect regional health.