Quantification of 1986 winter pollutant deposition in the Alberta oil sands area

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  • The chemical characteristics of snow in the Oil Sands area of northeastern Alberta have been monitored periodically since 1976. The accumulation of pollutants in the snowpack can be an effective indicator of total winter deposition as the snowpack preserves a continuous record of materials accumulated from the atmosphere. The current study encompasses two main objectives. The first comprises the collection of snow samples from 51 sites in the Oil Sands area, their subsequent chemical analyses, a description of the resultant deposition patterns, and spatial variations of pollutant loadings, and a meteorological history of the snowpack. The second objective is to provide site documentation and evaluations of the locations where snow has been collected during the present study. The snow survey was conducted between 4 and 8 February 1986, inclusive. In addition to snow sampling, site documentation was compiled and photographs of the sites' four cardinal directions and oblique aerials were taken. The overall pattern among the various chemical constituents illustrates a strong tendency for the highest ion concentrations to be near the two major oil sands plants and north-south, along the Athabasca River Valley. Fallout from the two plants and the occurrence of a low-level inversion in the river valley, which inhibits ventilation, generally account for these areal patterns. The lowest concentrations are usually situated at sites removed from the river and the oil sands plants. There are few exceptions to these patterns, except for odd stations that appear to have anomalously high or low values for the particular constituents. Without duplicates or replicates nothing can be conclusively determined about these anomalies. There is a wide range in the quality of the snow sampling sites in terms of meeting the long-range goals of the network. As such, there should be more emphasis on quality control and hypotheses testing in terms of Alberta Environment's objectives for future snow surveys.

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