AOSERP Reports

The Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Research Program (AOSERP) ran from 1975 to 1985 and carried out surveys and research aimed at identifying the potential long-term impacts of oil sands development. The program focused on land, water, air and human systems and produced numerous reports. The program was managed by Alberta Environment.To view a list of available reports, please visit: TAKE NOTE: These reports are provided to give context and historical information. As they are old they may contain references to out-of-date legislation and policies. Readers should be cautious when using these materials and always refer to current legislation and policies.
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  1. Relationships between habitats, forages and carrying capacity of moose range in Northern Alberta Part 1: Moose preferences for habitat and strata and forages [Download]

    Title: Relationships between habitats, forages and carrying capacity of moose range in Northern Alberta Part 1: Moose preferences for habitat and strata and forages
    Creator: Nowlin, R. A.
    Description: Relationships between moose (Alces alces andersoni) and the habitat strata and forages available to them in northern Alberta were studied within the Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Research Program (AOSERP) study area during fall (September through November 1976) and winter (December 1976 through March 1977). Radio telemetry was employed to delineate seasonal use, and preference and avoidance of both habitat strata and forages. Specific categories of use of habitats were also identified and evaluated. These included feeding, bedding, non-feeding-bedding, and "presence only". In addition, environmental variables affecting habitat use were variously identified and measured. Both physical and vegetation variables were considered. The habitat use data indicated that upland habitat strata were most heavily utilized and were preferred (p<0.01), whiIe lowlands were least utiIized and were avoided (p<0.01), during both fall and winter, for all categories of habitat use except non-feeding-bedding. Individual upland and lowland, habitats were variously important. During the fall, the aspen (populus tremuloides) habitat stratum and aspen mixed with either white spruce (Picea glauca) or jack pine (Pinus banksiana) were heavily utilized for all categories of use. Only the mixedwood habitats were variously preferred. And, in the "presence only" category of use, black spruce (Picea mariana) and black sprucetamarack (Larix laricina) were lightly used and were avoided (p<0.01). During the winter, aspen and aspen-white spruce were heavily utilized and were preferred (p<0.01) for all categories of use except non-feeding-bedding. Only aspen-white spruce was preferred (p<0.10) for this latter category. During both fall and winter, saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia) was clearly the most heavily utilized species of browse, and it appeared to be the only species that was preferred. Recommendations relevant to impact assessment and rehabilitation within the AOSERP study area were made. Both the discussion of results and the recommendations were qualified because of inadequate sample sizes overall, and unusually mild weather conditions during the winter.
    Subjects: Remote Sensing, Alberta, Habitat, Oil Sands, AOSERP, Wildlife, Trees, Moose, Tar Sands, Vegetation, Survey, AOSERP TF 1.2, Oilsands, Tarsands
    Date Created: 1978
  2. Interim report on an ecological survey of terrestrial insect communities in the AOSERP study area [Download]

    Title: Interim report on an ecological survey of terrestrial insect communities in the AOSERP study area
    Creator: Ryan, J. K.
    Description: Between August 18 and September 30,1978, insect communities of 12 homogeneous habitats, chosen as representative of the major vegetation types, were sampled in the Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Research Program (AOSERP) study area (56°21' to 58°00' N and 110°50' to 112°00' W). Soil and vegetation zones were quantitatively sampled, and insects and spiders collected were oven-dried and weighed. Additional samples were taken to show insect taxa present, relative abundance and vegetation damage levels. Collected insects were all determined to family level. The biomass of insects collected averaged 0.82 g oven-dry weight m-2 , and ranged from 0.28 (Jack Pine forest) to 3.11 (fen) grams. The majority of these were soil dwellers, as only 8% of the insect biomass was collected on foliage. Among the soil inhabitants, Diptera larvae were the group most commonly encountered, and contributed most to the biomass total. These were dominated by larvae of the families Fungivoridae (Mycetophilidae and Sciaridae), Chironomidae, Ceratopogonidae, and Anthomyiidae. Ants (Hymenoptera, Formicidae), were common in most habitats, and contributed significantly to the biomass total of several. Coleoptera and Lepidoptera were the third and fourth ranked contributors to biomass totals. Collembola, Heteroptera, Psocoptera, and miscellaneous insects were numerically abundant but did not usually contribute heavily to the biomass totals. The sites loosely followed a gradient of greatest biomass, numbers, and diversity in the wettest habitats, and lowest in the driest. Exceptions to this gradient were the wet black spruce bog, and the dry non-vegetated site. Spiders were abundant in all habitats, with standing crop biomasses from 0.03 to 0.20 g m-2. A total of 161 families of insects were found represented in the collections made. Specimens were collected of only four species of butterflies, Boloria titania Esper, Nymphalis j-album Boisduval, Polygonia satyrus Edwards, and Speyeria atlantis Edwards, while four other species were seen but not collected. The late start and short field period of this investigation dictate that these lists are not comprehensive. Insect damage surveys showed great variation in the rates of insect attack on dominant plant species. Leaves of Populus tremuloides Michx., were most heavily damaged, with an estimated 14. 7% of the leaf area removed. Leaves of Cornus stolonifera Michx. bore the greatest number of aphids, averaging 6.7 individuals per leaf. Few deciduous tree stems bore damage, except for galls on Salix sp., but galls and bud damage were common on spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) and glauca (Moench) ). Insect caused crown and tree mortality was not significant. Trophic structure analysis showed that herbivores were the largest group of insects, followed closely by carnivores and an almost equa1 biomass of saprovores. Carnivores, which were mostly entomophagous, were over-represented in the quantitative samples due to their activity, while saprovores were under-represented. The ecological significance of the saprovore food chain is discussed as being a method of allowing protein concentration by microbes, which are consumed by these animals. The use of insects as environmental monitors is discussed, specifically for the AOSERP study area, including the outbreak potential of destructive bark beetles (Scolytidae).
    Subjects: Tar Sands, Alberta, AOSERP, Oil Sands, Insects, AOSERP LS 28.1.1, Tarsands, Survey, Oilsands
    Date Created: 1979
  3. Lake acidification potential in the Alberta oil sands environmental research program study area [Download]

    Title: Lake acidification potential in the Alberta oil sands environmental research program study area
    Creator: Hesslein, R. H.
    Description: Numerous lakes in Scandinavia and eastern North America have been damaged by acidic precipitation induced by anthropogenic oxides of sulphur and nitrogen. On first approximation, lakes near present oil sands operations would not be susceptible to acidification due to buffering provided by their sedimentary setting. However, due to the planned increases in oil sands developments along with increased regional outputs of oxides of sulphur and nitrogen, a definitive study with the objective of assessing the susceptibility of nearby lakes to acidification was desired. Accordingly this study was initiated in 1976.
    Subjects: AOSERP, Oil Sands, Air Quality, Water Quality, AOSERP HY 2.2, Alberta, Tar Sands, Tarsands, Lake Acidification, Oilsands, Acid Precipitation, SO2
    Date Created: 1979
  4. A preliminary investigation into the magnitude of fog occurrence and associated problems in the oil sands area [Download]

    Title: A preliminary investigation into the magnitude of fog occurrence and associated problems in the oil sands area
    Creator: Croft, B. R.
    Description: Water and ice fogs were investigated for the existing situation (GCOS) and a potential situation (GCOS, Syncrude, plus three more plants). Based on meteorological and historical fog data, Fort McMurray Airport experiences 4 to 5 days with ice fog and 18 total days with fog per year. There is potential for ice fog to occur in the Oil Sands Area 10-18 days per year covering 320 to 1580 km2 (2 plants) or up to 4000 km2 (5 plants) under severe persistent conditions. Pollutant concentrations caused by normal low level emissions could increase by 2 -3 times during ice fogs. The potential for pollutant interaction with water fogs is low because plume mixing to the ground during fog occurrence is remote.
    Subjects: AOSERP, Oilsands, AOSERP ME 3.3, Fog, Tar Sands, Tarsands, Alberta, Air Quality, Oil Sands
    Date Created: 1976
  5. The application of remote sensing to environmental monitoring of the AOSERP study area: Volume I [Download]

    Title: The application of remote sensing to environmental monitoring of the AOSERP study area: Volume I
    Creator: Aronoff, S.
    Description: The purpose of this study was to examine the application of remote sensing to environmental monitoring of the Athabasca Oil Sands region and to demonstrate the way in which field-acquired and remotely-sensed data could be integrated. Vegetation field data were acquired and sample plots were subjectively divided into community and class groupings. False color infrared and true color aerial photography were examined. It was concluded that false color infrared aerial photography acquired during the period of maximum foliage development is most valuable for vegetation mapping and the detection of environmental disturbance. Thermal infrared night time imagery was found to be most valuable in the detection of thermal anomalies related to water features, and in the analysis of oil sands plant sites. LANDSAT color composite transparencies were studied and found to be valuable in providing an overview of the major ecological communities in the area, and of the progress of land clearing operations. Digital analysis of two summer images was done using the Image-IOO system at the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing in Ottawa. Change detection analysis of open water, cleared land, and disturbance vegetation appeared to be the most valuable application of LANDSAT digital data to environmental monitoring of the region. In an operational environmental monitoring program, remotely sensed data should be acquired at regular intervals. It is suggested that imagery acquisition for different areas within the Oil Sands region be specifically tailored to the current and expected activity in each area.
    Subjects: Monitoring, AOSERP, Tarsands, Oilsands, Remote Sensing, Oil Sands, Alberta, AOSERP TF 6.3, Tar Sands
    Date Created: 1978
  6. Baseline states of organic constituents in the Athabasca river system upstream of Fort McMurray [Download]

    Title: Baseline states of organic constituents in the Athabasca river system upstream of Fort McMurray
    Creator: Strosher, M. T.
    Description: Investigations were carried out on the Athabasca River upstream of Fort McMurray to determine the baseline quantities of organic constituents and their contribution to the organic water quality of the river system as it continues through the Athabasca Oil Sands strip mining area. Results of these investigations were evaluated to assess the fate of organic matter in this segment of the river. Studies focussed on the natural occurrence of classes of compounds which are known to be major constituents of wastewaters from oil sands processing. Major groups of naturally occurring organic compounds and a limited number of labile compounds were also considered as a means of assessing the assimilative capacities of this river segment. Water soluble constituents, tannins and lignins, asphaltenes, and polar constituents were the major organic components of the river system as determined from the 16 different investigations carried out. Water samples contained an average 9 mg/l of organic carbon, the majority of which was determined as dissolved organic carbon. Water soluble organics, which include the humic acids, averaged 6.9 mg/l and were the largest single organic component of the river water. Also contained in this water soluble fraction were the naturally occurring tannin and lignins at 0.24 mg/l. The extractable carbon fraction contained 20% asphaltenes, 33% polar constituents, and 10% hydrocarbons. Sediment samples contained an average 11,000 to 20,000 mg/kg of total organic carbon, 6% of which occurred as extractable organic carbon. Tannins and lignins were the largest group of compounds detected in the sediments but comprised only 3% of their unextractable carbon fraction. Extractable organic carbon fractions contained 39% asphaltenes, 17% polar compounds, and 16% hydrocarbons. On the basis of these investigations, it is concluded that organic constituents which occur in this segment of the river are mainly water soluble, naturally occurring compounds that persist consistently throughout this upstream study area. Measurements to assess the assimilative capacity of the river system indicate that minimal uptake of the majority of organic matter occurs in this river section, thus providing a constant natural input to the river system at Fort McMurray.
    Subjects: AOSERP, AOSERP HY 3.1.2, Wastewater, Water Chemistry, Tar Sands, Oilsands, Water Quality, Alberta, Athabasca River, AOSERP Report 53, Tarsands, Oil Sands, Fort McMurray
    Date Created: 1979
  7. A comparative study of benthic algal primary productivity in the AOSERP study area [Download]

    Title: A comparative study of benthic algal primary productivity in the AOSERP study area
    Creator: Hickman, M.
    Description: Studies concentrating upon the epilithic algal community were conducted in five tributary rivers flowing into the Athabasca river: the Muskeg, Steepbank, Hangingstone, MacKay, and Ells rivers. Numerically, cyanophycean algae (Lyngbya aerugineo-caerulea, Phormidium sp., Calothris braunii, Nostoc spp., and Anabaena affinis) dominated, followed by diatoms (Synedra ulna, Synedra rumpens, Gomphonema olivaceum, Gomphonema acuminatum, Gomphonema longiceps v. subclavata, Nitzschia fonticola, Nitzschia palea, Achanthes lanceolata, Epithemia sorex, Epithemia turgida, Cocconeis placentula and Cocconeis pediculus). One exception was the Hangingstone River where chlorophycean algae (Stigeoclonium pachydermum and Cladophora glomerata) were next in importance to the Cyanophyta. Seasonal fluctuations in algal species and numbers were influenced by a myriad of interacting factors as were standing crop fluctuations. However, physically disruptive forces, current velocity and discharge, appeared more important than dissolved nutrients. They also affected the chemical composition of the water itself. The mean algal standing crops ranged from 7.94 to 43.23 mg m chlorophyll a in the MacKay and Ells rivers, respectively, with mean values of 30.46, 22.9, and 22.35 mg·m-2 chlorophyll a occurring in the Muskeg, Steepbank, and Hangingstone rivers, respectively. Epilithic algal primary productivity was more closely related to standing crop size than irradiance. The annual production averaged 36.2, 54.4, 71.4, 101.6, and 110.0 gm C m-2 in the MacKay, Hangingstone, Steepbank, Ells, and Muskeg rivers, respectively.
    Subjects: Athabasca River, Oilsands, Tarsands, AOSERP, AOSERP Report 128, Water Quality, Alberta, Oil Sands, Algae, Tar Sands
    Date Created: 1983
  8. Amphibians and reptiles in the AOSERP study area [Download]

    Title: Amphibians and reptiles in the AOSERP study area
    Creator: Roberts, W.
    Description: During June, July, and August of 1976 three species of amphibians were found within the Alberta Oil Sands Project area. The wood frog (Rana sylvatica) was the most abundant and widespread species and was collected at each of 20 sites examined. Boreal chorus frogs (Pseudacris triseriata maculata) and Canadian toads (Bufohemiophrys) were common but found at less than half of the study sites. All three species had spawned prior to 12 June. Natural ponds and borrow pits were the most frequently used spawning sites. Canadian toads also spawned in flowing water and lake margins. All species had metamorphosed by early August. Wood frogs metamorphosed at a mean snout-vent length of 17.2 mm, Canadian toads at 12.4 mm, and boreal chorus frogs at 13.7 mm. Spawning for each of these species probably does not occur until individuals are in their third summer of life. Population densities of wood frogs, boreal chorus frogs, and Canadian toads reached estimated maxima of 19.6, 2.3, and 12 per 1000 m2 during 1977. Maximum densities of all species were found within 50 m of the nearest body of water in moist habitat vegetated by sedges, grasses, horsetails, willows and poplar. Lower densities were found in upland mixed woods and no anurans were found in dry areas with sandy substrate and jack pine forest. Other amphibian species and reptiles are either absent or only locally abundant.
    Subjects: AOSERP, AOSERP TF 5.1, Wildlife, Amphibians, Survey, Reptiles, Tarsands, Alberta, Oilsands, Oil Sands, Tar Sands
    Date Created: 1979
  9. Soils inventory of the Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Research Program study area [Download]

    Title: Soils inventory of the Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Research Program study area
    Creator: Turchenek, L. W.
    Description: A soil survey of the Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Research Program (AOSERP) study area was initiated in 1976 as part of the program objective to establish a data base for the area. The purpose of this report and accompanying soil maps is to provide data on the kinds, characteristics, location, and areal distribution of soils in the AOSERP study area. The soil maps indicate types of soils and landforms within delineated areas. The mapping approach used is similar to the ecological method of classification in which land areas are mapped rapidly and at a small or reconnaissance scale by means of air photo interpretation and supporting field checks on 1:50,000 airphotos. Recurring patterns of soils, landforms, and vegetation were delineated. The information was transferred first to 1:50,000 preliminary maps and then to eight 1:126,720 maps which accompany this report. General characteristics of vegetation are provided in this report, but more detailed information must be derived from AOSERP vegetation maps. In addition to airphoto interpretation, the information on soil maps is based on about four field checks per township and on analyses of samples from 130 soil profiles. The predominant upland soils in the study area are Gray Luvisols, developed on loamy to clayey, morainal and glaciolacustrine deposits; and Dystric Brunisols, developed on sandy glaciofluvial and eolian materials. Gleysolic soils occupy a significant proportion of the landscape in many areas. Gleysols and Regosols occur on recently deposited fluvial materials, which occur in stream channel, fan and apron, and delta landforms. Solonetzic soils are associated with Luvisols on some of the clayey glaciolacustrine plains. Soils of low-lying, poorly drained areas are mainly Organic. These soils, formed in and fen peats, occupy a considerable portion of the area, and vary from less than 1 m to several metres in thickness. Soil formed in peat and which have permafrost layers in them, the Organic Cryosols, are extensive in the Birch Mountains Upland and occur sporadically elsewhere. Miscellaneous land types mapped include Rock, Rough Broken, and Disturbed lands. This report outlines methodology and systems of classification used in this soils inventory. This is followed by descriptions of ecological units and soils. The last part of the report outlines soil survey interpretations relating to forestry, agriculture, engineering, wildlife and recreational uses, and soil sensitivity to acidic deposition. Data for representative soil profiles are presented in RMD Report L-80, \"Soils Inventory of the Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Research Study Area: Appendix 9.4\".
    Subjects: Oilsands, Alberta, AOSERP, Tarsands, Tar Sands, Soils, Inventory, Oil Sands
    Date Created: 1982
  10. An intensive surface water quality study of the Muskeg River watershed - Vol I [Download]

    Title: An intensive surface water quality study of the Muskeg River watershed - Vol I
    Creator: Akena, A. M.
    Description: Seasonal and areal variations in significant water quality parameters in the Muskeg River basin of northeastern Alberta are described. Specific conductances and the concentrations of major ions (Ca+2, Mg+2, HCO3 -, and, to some extent, Na+ and Cl-) generally exhibited relatively stable seasonal levels, except for occasional fluctuations caused by storm events or deep groundwater flows. The relationship between physiographic features and watershed water quality indicated that water and chemical storage/movement in muskeg areas play a major role in maintaining or influencing observed patterns, levels, and loadings of Ca and Mg, as well as Na:Cl ratios. Longitudinal relationships, between key sub basin sites and the watershed focal point, for specific conductance and the concentrations of major ions, were significant enough to allow basic water quality information on the sub-basin sites to be deduced by monitoring the focal point. Good regression relationships, between inter variables (specific conductance and discharge) and the concentrations of major ions and related parameters, were found. It was possible to calculate annual loads discharged through the major sampling sites. The use of these relationships to monitor degradation or improvement in chemical water quality was proposed. Fluctuations in the dissolved oxygen regime were influenced by sub-basin dependent physical factors (turbulence, turbidity, and temperature) as well as changes in algal and microbial populations. \"Free\" CO2 (and pH) variations reflected fluctuations in biotic respiration, biochemical decomposition, and photosynthetic processes. Changes in microbial communities were also analysed in relation to macronutrient concentrations and the assimilative capacity of the streams. Orthophosphate phosphorus and nitrite- + nitrate - nitrogen (NO2--N + NO3--N) concentrations were generally low, especially during the ice-free period. This may be due to low watershed release and/or microbial uptake. The dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and ammonia-nitrogen (NH3 -N) concentrations peaked at approximately the same time (dissolved organic nitrogen, DON, peaked a month earlier); the coincidence appeared to inhibit nitrification. DOC:DON and NH3-N:(NO2--N + NO3--N) ratios, along with variations in NH3-N concentrations, indicate that bacterial communities in streams of the Muskeg River basin are, at present, effective in converting organic substances to nutrients. Levels of K, B, Co, Ni, Hg, Pb, Cu, and Zn were found to be influenced by biotic factors. The observed levels of certain metals were lower than Alberta Surface Water Quality objectives, while for As, Hg, Ni, Zn, Fe, and Mn, the objective levels were exceeded. The higher baseflow concentrations of extractable Cr, Pb, Zn, V, Ni, Fe, Al, Mn, Cu, and Co were associated with the particulate rather than the dissolved phase.
    Subjects: AOSERP, Tar Sands, Tarsands, AOSERP HY 2.5, Water Chemistry, Oil Sands, Water, Oilsands, Metals, Alberta, Nutrients
    Date Created: 1979