Comparison of Soil Quality and Productivity of Reclaimed and Native Oil Sands Soils

Leonard Leskiw
T.B. Zeleke
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The primary target of land reclamation in the Athabasca Oil Sands (AOS) region of Canada is to re-create ecosystems which are similar to the pre-disturbance ecosystems. The main objective of this study was to determine if reclaimed soils of the AOS have comparable quality and productivity to native soils. Data collected from 49 natural and 39 reclaimed (6 to 24 years of age) plots were analysed and compared. Results showed that reclaimed tailing sand soils generally had higher total pools of nutrients and moisture storage capacity than natural coarse textured soils. Reclaimed overburden soils are similar to fine textured natural soils in terms of nutrients and moisture storage capacity. Available soil water holding capacity was observed as the primary factor determining productivity in both reclaimed (R2 = 0.61; p<0001) and natural (R2 = 0.46, p<0001) soils. We conclude that reclaimed soils of the AOS region have similar productivity to their comparable native soils. The interpretations and conclusions are made by the authors and are not endorsed by the Cumulative Effects Management Association, the funding agency.