This project was undertaken to study diatom communities from rivers in close proximity to tar sands development in the Athabasca River watershed, Alberta, Canada. Over the past years, tar sands development in Alberta has been intensified and presents new challenges for environmental management in Alberta. As the predominant technologies for extracting bitumen from the tar sands rely on large amounts of freshwater, concerns on the water quality of natural water bodies and its impacts on aquatic life and human health are increasing. Although limited information on the diatom communities in this region is available from the late 1970s and early 1980s, there are no reference diatom communities with which to compare modern-day samples. In this study, water and diatom samples were collected from nine sites in 2008 and replicate samples were collected from a subset of those sites in 2009. Based on the few samples available, it was not possible to directly link tar sands-related pollution with changes in diatom community structure, although diatoms clearly showed a response to dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and conductivity. However, diatom communities collected represent a benchmark for biomonitoring assessment in the region following expansion of the industry and represent valuable information for future studies.

You do not currently have access to this content.