Oil Sands Wetland Ecosystem Monitoring Program Indicators in Alberta, Canada: Transitioning from Pilot to Long-Term Monitoring

Craig Mahoney
Joshua Montgomery
Stephanie Connor
Danielle Cobbaert
Resource Date:


Boreal wetlands within the oil sands region of Alberta, Canada, are subject to natural and anthropogenic pressures, resulting in the need for monitoring these sensitive ecosystems to ensure their protection. This study presents results from Canada’s pilot Oil Sands Monitoring (OSM) Wetland Program. This study is part of a project that seeks to assess and determine which of a selection of wetland indicators is suitable for identifying changes to wetland ecosystem “states” within a regional wetland monitoring program resulting from the effects of oil sands development. Specifically, this study seeks to identify indicators that can detect changes in a wetland ecosystem “state” using data from a 3-year pilot of the OSM Wetland Program and identify potential high-level oil sands-related pathways through which changes in states may occur, where appropriate. The monitoring data acquired during the pilot program are synthesized to identify preliminary trends and programmatic knowledge gaps, and future recommendations for an improved long-term “core” monitoring program are discussed. This study does not seek to attribute changes in wetland states measured via indicators to specific oil sands pressures but focuses on identifying those indicators that are sensitive enough to identify change over time. The results suggest that water quality, benthic invertebrates, and vegetation indicators can identify changes in wetland states over time, whereas wildlife indicators are inconclusive. Further, it is recommended that hydrometeorology data are acquired in parallel to other indicator data for contextualizing climate conditions. The findings from this work provide insights for developing and transitioning the OSM Wetland Program to a long-term effort, in addition to providing information for other regional wetland monitoring programs.


wetlandsmonitoringwater qualityaquatic ecologyhydrometeorology