The effects of meso-scale topography on the performance of engineered soil covers
Kelln, Christopher James
Understanding the hydrological controls on subsurface flow and transport is of considerable importance in the study of reclaimed landscapes in the oil sands region of Canada. A significant portion of the reclaimed landscape will be comprised of a thin veneer (~ 1 m) of clay-rich reclamation soil overlying saline-sodic shale overburden, which is a waste by-product from the mining process. The global objective of this study was to investigate the first-order controls on soil moisture and salt transport dynamics within clay-rich reclamation covers overlying low permeability waste substrates. The study site is located in a cold, semi-arid climate in the oil sands region of northern Alberta. Preferential flow was the dominant mechanism responsible for the development of perched water table conditions on the cover-waste interface during the spring snow melt. Hydrological and geochemical data indicated that snowmelt infiltration occurs via the macroporosity while the ground is still frozen. An isotope hydrograph separation conducted on water collected in a weeping tile confirmed the presence of fresh snowmelt water at the onset of subsurface flow. This water transitions to a chemical signature that is comprised of approximately 80% connate pore water as a result of chemical equilibration between pore water in the soil matrix and fresh water in the macropores.Detailed mapping of the spatial distribution of soil moisture and salts within a reclamation cover indicated the lower-slope positions are wetter due to the accumulation surface run-off and frozen ground infiltration in spring. Increased soil moisture conditions in lower-slope positions accelerate salt ingress, while drier conditions in middle and upper-slope positions attenuate salt ingress. The data indicated that fresh snowmelt water is bypassing the soil matrix higher in the cover profile. Subsurface flow and deep percolation are key mechanisms mitigating vertical salt ingress in lower and upper slope positions. The mesotopography of the cover-waste interface imposes a direct control on the depth of perched water and the downslope routing of water. Undulations in the cover-waste interface cause the depth of perched water to vary considerably (± 20 – 60 cm) over short distances (< 5 m), while saturated subsurface flow is routed through the lowest elevations in the cover profile. A numerical analysis of subsurface flow was able to simulate both the discharge rate and cumulative volume of flow to a weeping tile. Composite hydraulic functions were used in the simulations to account for the increased hydraulic conductivity and drainable porosity created by the macroporosity at near-saturated conditions. The transient Na+ concentration of discharge water was modelled using the concept of an equivalent porous medium. The good match between measured and modelled data verified the conceptual model, which contends that saturated subsurface flow is dominated by the fracture network and that the concentration of discharge water is function of the depth of perched water. Finally, the results from this study suggest the mesotopography of the cover-waste interface could be used to manage ‘excess’ water and salts within the landscape.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
CommitteeMendoza, Carl; Hawkes, Christopher D.; Barbour, S. Lee; Alshorbagy, Amin; Si, Bing C.; van der Kamp, Garth