Authors: Hilderman, JN; Barbour, SL; Hendry, MJ


Cite As:
Hilderman, JN, Barbour, SL & Hendry, MJ 2011, 'Stable isotope profiling for estimation of net percolation through a reclaimed overburden dump', in AB Fourie, M Tibbett & A Beersing (eds), Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Mine Closure, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 239-250,

Download citation as:   ris   bibtex   endnote   text   Zotero

Characterising the hydrology and hydrogeology of reclaimed overburden fills at oil sands mines is required to evaluate contaminant loadings to surface water receptors. Conventional monitoring of water balance does not provide an accurate estimate of one of the most critical parameters, net percolation (groundwater recharge). Here we describe a novel method to estimate recharge rates in a saline-sodic overburden fill at the Syncrude Canada Ltd. Mildred Lake Mine in the Athabasca Oil Sands region of Alberta, Canada. This site has been used to study cover performance and monitor the surface water balance for different configurations of reclamation cover over the past decade. Core samples of the cover soil and overburden fill were collected from nine locations across the site. The core samples were analysed in the laboratory for the stable isotopes, δ2H and δ18O, in the pore water. A local meteoric water line (LMWL) was developed from precipitation samples collected at the site in 2009 and was used to assess whether evaporation had altered the isotopic signatures of the pore water. Stable isotope profiles were generated from the soil sample analysis results at each sampling location. The one dimensional δ2H profiles were mathematically simulated to estimate the long-term net percolation rates at different topographic positions. The estimated net percolation rates ranged from 32–50 mm/yr for the plateau and mid-slope bench to 0–12 mm/yr for locations on the slope.

Bailey, D.L.H. (2001) Properties of soil profiles over sodic mine spoil 16 years after construction. MSc thesis, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada (from Kessler 2007).
Desaulniers, D.E., Kaufmann, R.S., Cherry, J.A. and Bentley, H.W. (1986) The 37Cl-35Cl variations in a diffusion-controlled groundwater system, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 50(8), pp. 1757–1764.
Dowuona, G.N., Mermut, A.R. and Krouse, H.R. (1993) Stable isotope geochemistry of sulfate in relation to hydrogeology in southern Saskatchewan, Canada, Applied Geochemistry 8(3), pp. 255–263.
Gat, J.R., Mook, W.G. and Meijer, A.J. (2001) Environmental isotopes in the hydrological cycle – Principles and applications, Vol. 2 – Atmospheric water. W.G. Mook (ed.), IHP-V, Technical document No. 39, UNESCO, Paris, 139 p.
Gelhar, L.W., Welty, C. and Rehfeldt, K.R. (1992) A critical review of data on field-scale dispersion in aquifers. Water Resources Research 28(7), pp. 1955–1974.
Hendry, M.J. and Wassenaar, L.I. (1999) Implications of the distribution of D in pore waters for groundwater flow and the timing of geologic events in a thick aquitard system, Water Resources Research, 35(6), pp. 1751–1760.
Hendry, M.J. and Wassenaar, L.I. (2004) Transport and geochemical controls on the distribution of solutes and stable isotopes in a thick clay-rich till aquitard, Canada. Isotopes in Environmental and Health Studies, 40(1), pp. 3–19.
Hendry, M.J., Barbour, S.L., Boldt-Leppin, B.E.J., Reiffersheid, L.J. and Wassenaar, L.I. (2009) A comparison of laboratory and field based determinations of molecular diffusion coefficients in a low permeability geologic medium. Environmental Science and Technology, 43(17), pp. 6730–6736.
Hendry, M.J., Barbour, S.L., Zettyl, J., Chostner, V. and Wassenaar, L.I. (2010 in prep). Controls on the long-term downward transport of δD of water in a regionally extensive, two-layered aquitard system. In preparation.
Kelln, C., Barbour, L. and Qualizza, C. (2007) Preferential flow in a reclamation cover: Hydrological and geochemical response. Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering, 133(10), pp. 1277–1289.
Kelln, C., Barbour, S.L. and Qualizza, C. (2008) Controls on the spatial distribution of soil moisture and solute transport in a sloping reclamation cover. Canadian Geotechnical Journal, 45(3), pp. 351–366.
Kelln, C.J. (2008) The effects of meso-scale topography on the performance of engineered soil covers. PhD Thesis, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon.
Kelln, C.J., Barbour, S.L. and Qualizza, C. (2009) Fracture-dominated subsurface flow and transport in a sloping reclamation cover. Vadose Zone Journal, 8(1), pp. 96–107.
Kelln, C.J., Wassenaar, L.I. and Hendry, M.J. (2001) Stable isotopes of porewater in clay-rich aquitards: A comparison and evaluation of measurement techniques, Ground Water Monitoring & Remediation 21(2), pp. 108–116.
Kessler, S. (2007) Salinity Profiles in Reconstructed Soils Over Saline-Sodic Waste from the Oil Sands Industry. MSc Thesis, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK.
Koehler, G., Wassenaar, L.I. and Hendry, M.J. (2000) An automated technique for measuring δD and δ18O values of porewater by direct CO2 and H2 equilibration. Analytical Chemistry, 72(22), pp. 5659–5664.
Lawrence, J.R. and Taylor, H.P. (1972) Hydrogen and oxygen isotope systematics in weathering profiles. Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta 36, pp. 1377–1393.
Lis, G.P., Wassenaar, L.I. and Hendry, M.J. (2007) High precision laser spectroscopy D/H and 18O/16O measurements of microliter natural water samples. Analytical Chemistry 80, pp. 287–293.
Meiers, G. (2002) The use of field measurements of hydraulic conductivity to characterize the performance of reclamation covers with time. M. Eng. thesis, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK.
Meiers, G.P., Barbour, S.L. and Meiers, M.K. (2003) The use of field measurements of hydraulic conductivity to characterize the performance of reclamation soil covers with time. Proceedings 6th International Conference on Acid Rock Drainage, Cairns, Australia.
Meiers, G.P., Barbour, S.L. and Qualizza, C.V. (2006) The use of in situ measurements of hydraulic conductivity to provide an understanding of cover system performance over time. Proceedings 7th International Conference on Acid Rock Drainage, St. Louis, MO.
Merrill, S.D., Doering, E.J, Power, J.F. and Sandoval, F.M. (1983) Sodium movement in soil-minespoil profiles: Diffusion and convection. Soil Science 136, pp. 308–316.
Moran, S.R., Trudell, M.R., Macyk, T.M. and Cheel, D.B. (1990) Plains hydrology and reclamation project: summary report. Report prepared for the Plains Coal Reclamation Research Program. Alberta Land Conservation Reclamation Council, Edmonton, Canada.
Nichol, C., Kessler, S., Wall, S.N., Barbour, S.L. and Hendry, J. (2006) 30 Dump instrumented watersheds geochemical analysis: A report prepared for Syncrude Canada Ltd., University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada.
Pickens, J.F. and Grisak, G.E. (1981) Scale-dependent dispersion in a stratified granular aquifer. Water Resources Research 17(4), pp. 1191–1211.
Remenda, V.H., Van, D.K. and Cherry, J.A. (1996) Use of vertical profiles of 18O to constrain estimates of hydraulic conductivity in a thick, unfractured aquitard, Water Resources Research, 32(10), pp. 2979–2987.
Shackelford, C.D. (1991) Laboratory diffusion testing for waste disposal – A review. Contaminant Hydrology 7,
pp. 177–217.
Shurbaji, A.-R.M. and Phillips, F.M. (1995) A numerical model for the movement of H2O, H218O, and 2HHO in the unsaturated zone: Journal of Hydrology, 171, pp. 125–142.
Shurniak, R. (2003) Predictive modeling of moisture movement within soil cover systems for saline/sodic overburden piles. MSc Thesis, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada.
Simpkins, W.W. and Bradbury, K.R. (1992) Groundwater flow, velocity, and age in a thick, fine-grained till unit in southeastern Wisconsin. Journal of Hydrology, 132(1–4), pp. 283–319.
van der Kamp, G., Van Stempvoort, D.R. and Wassenaar, L.I. (1996) The radial diffusion method 1: using intact cores to determine isotopic composition, chemistry, and effective porosities for groundwater in aquitards, Water Resources Research, 32(6), pp. 1815–1822.
Wall, S.N. (2005) Characterizing the geochemical reactions in an overburden waste pile: Syncrude mine site, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. MSc Thesis, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon.
Wassenaar, L.I., Hendry, M.J., Chostner, V.L. and Lis, G.P. (2008) High resolution pore water δ²H and δ18O measurements by H2O(liquid) – H2O(vapour) equilibration laser spectroscopy. Environmental Science and Technology 42 (24), pp. 9262–9267.

© Copyright 2021, Australian Centre for Geomechanics (ACG), The University of Western Australia. All rights reserved.
Please direct any queries or error reports to