In the Field with Dani Degenhardt from the Canadian Forest Service

Scott Trimble

October 21, 2020 at 9:36 pm | Updated March 16, 2022 at 10:30 am | 4 min read

Recently, our Staff Scientist, Eric Munoz-Garcia, sat down with Dani Degenhardt who is a Research Scientist with the Canadian Forest Service, which is part of the Department of Natural Resources, Canada. She has a background in soil science, so she completed her master’s and her PhD in Soil Chemistry in the Department of Soil Science at the University of Saskatchewan. After she finished her grad studies, she worked for Provincial Applied Research Agency for about 8-years in reclamation before moving into her current role. A lot of her work with that Provincial Research Agency was in the reclamation of oil and gas well sites, and oil sand reclamation in Northern Alberta. She also told us that currently all the major oil sand companies in that area are doing different research looking at how to best consolidate this material and do the final reclamation closure planning for their footprint, and her research at the Canadian Forest Service helps to support that.

The study she is doing, where they used the CI-600 In-Situ Root Imager from CID Bio-Science, is looking at a trapping strategy on fine-dominated tailing and establishing wetland species in a meso-scaled greenhouse experiment. It is to look at kind of a smaller scale version of how they would do this on the landscape, varying capping depth materials that would be locally available on site that they can use to terrestrially cap the consolidated tailings. Next, they looked at what species – native species – are suitable, so they could use that for reclamation in the future. Here is a look into the conversation that Eric and Dani had about her current study:

Q: In your particular study now, or in past ones, what species of plants have you been monitoring?

A: So, we’re trying to create, in terms of our community or enclosures, to be what we called a pore fen. So, it’s a wetland plant community. We’re using a variety of both woody species like Dwarf birch to willows, Bebb’s willows, as well as a number of herbaceous species like Western Dock. And also a number of graminoids, like seaside arrowgrass, bulrush. So, all these species are found locally in Northern Boreal Forest in the pore fen areas. This means they’re adapted to the kind of environment that we would create as our final land closure plans. And they’re also quite tolerant of high salinity conditions. Our tailings tend to have a lot of sodium as part of the remnants of the whole extraction process. There’s a lot of sodium that still remains in the tailings. So, I think these species are kind of well-suited for that type of environment. We’re also looking at creating upland ecosystems with these tailings. In addition to that we’re using upland species for a number of our treatments, so we have Aspen, which is a deciduous tree species. Jack pine, which is a conifer, and dogwood, which is a shrub, and Slender Reed-Grass, which is a graminoid.

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Q: Approximately how many tubes do you have installed?

A: I believe we have at least 32, if not more.

Q: How does your research apply to the real world?

A: Yeah, so the idea is that we’re learning about how these capping strategies will help support the plant community that we put into these ponds. The idea is that we monitor the plant growth and development for three years, and we’re going to take tissue samples and look at both sodium and acetic acid accumulation in the plant tissues over time, and probably develop some type of correlation between their health and how they sequester these ions that may be more detrimental or toxic to their growth. So, if we can learn in the next two years which species do better or fare better in this environment, then we would select the species and use them for future reclamation. The other thing we’re learning right now is different options of capping materials and depth. So, we’re varying the depth and the type of material that we’re using for reclamation, so we can better inform operators what are some of the more suitable materials, as well as some optimal depths achieved, because currently the regulators are enforcing that they use at least one-meter of cover, and I think one of the problems with a lot of these oil sand operators is they don’t have enough material to reclaim the area that is disturbed. So, there’ll be a material shortage. So, if there’s ways to reduce the depth of cover while still maintaining support for a healthy plant ecosystem then that would be the probably best case scenario, and that’s what we’re trying to help support.

Q: What material are you using for capping material?

A: These materials are all salvaged from the operators when they first started mining in that area. So, peat, what we call peat-mineral mix is really, essentially just peat mixed with a bit of mineral soil. There’s also a secondary material named marine glacial till, which is also salvaged onsite. These companies do all the material salvage and storage for future reclamations of these general materials that were originally from the landscape.

Q: Do you have a 600 or a 602?

A: The CI-600

Q: Just to finish off, if there was anything else that you wanted to talk about? Maybe any publishing that you’ll be doing soon, or if there’s any tips for users?

A: Yeah, I think there’s definitely plans to publish this work. Obviously, it would be nice to collect all three-years of data and use the results of the research together and get that out there as soon as the study wraps up. So, that’s kind of our plan.

*Note: Some phrases may be shortened for clarity and length

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