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TitleOrigin and geochemistry of saline spring waters in the Athabasca oil sands region, Alberta, Canada
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsGue, A. E., Mayer B., & Grasby S. E.
Secondary TitleApplied Geochemistry
Pagination13 pages
Date Published10/2015
Publication Languageeng
ISSN Number08832927
KeywordsDevonian carbonate rocks, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), geochemistry, ground water, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), spring water

The geochemistry of saline spring waters in the Athabasca oil sands region (AOSR) in Alberta (Canada) discharging from Devonian carbonate rocks into the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers was characterized for major ions, trace elements, dissolved gases, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). In addition, stable isotope analyses of H2O, SO4, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), Sr, and CH4 were used to trace the sources of spring waters and their dissolved solutes, and to identify subsurface processes affecting water chemistry. The spring waters had δ18O values as low as −23.5‰, suggesting they are composed of up to 75% Laurentide glacial meltwater. Tritium and radiocarbon age-dating results, analyzed for three spring waters, supported a glacial origin. The high salinity of the spring waters (TDS 7210–51,800 mg/L) was due to dissolution of Devonian evaporite and carbonate deposits in the subsurface. Spring waters were affected by bacterial (dissimilatory) sulfate reduction, methanogenesis, and methane oxidation. Trace elements were present in spring waters at varying concentrations, with only one spring containing several predominant oil sands metals (As, Fe, Mo, Ni, Se, Zn) suggesting bitumen as a source. Five springs contained elements (Al, As, B, Fe, Se) at concentrations exceeding water quality guidelines for the protection of aquatic life. Seven PAHs were detected in spring waters (total PAH concentrations ranged from 7.3 to 273.6 ng/L), but most springs contained a maximum of two PAHs (phenanthrene and naphthalene), with more PAHs being detected in springs along the Athabasca River. This geochemical characterization of the saline groundwater discharging from the Devonian carbonates underlying oil sands deposits contributes to the knowledge of baseline groundwater chemistry in the AOSR, which is of importance in the delineation of natural versus anthropogenic effects on regional surface water and groundwater quality.

Locational Keywords

Athabasca oil sands region, Athabsca River, Clearwater River

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Short TitleApplied Geochemistry
Citation Key54530

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