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Microcosm assessment of the biogeochemical development of sulfur and oxygen in oil sands fluid fine tailings

Chen, Michael, Walshe, Gillian, Chi Fru, Ernest ORCID:, Ciborowski, Jan J.H. and Weisener, Christopher G. 2013. Microcosm assessment of the biogeochemical development of sulfur and oxygen in oil sands fluid fine tailings. Applied Geochemistry 37 , pp. 1-11. 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2013.06.007

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Bitumen recovery from Alberta oil sands generates fluid fine tailings, which are retained in tailings ponds where solids settle and release process water. The recovered water is recycled for bitumen extraction, while the resulting tailings are incorporated into various landforms for reclamation, with one option being conversion of tailings basins to viable end pit lakes. Tailings ponds commonly host diverse microbial communities, including SO4-reducing prokaryotes. The highly reducing nature of the hydrogen sulfide produced by these prokaryotes may impact the biogeochemical cycling of key nutrients. However, the behavioral dynamics of hydrogen sulfide production in ponds containing fluid fine tailings remain to be clearly explained. In this study, microcosms are used as analogues of the sediment–water interface of a tailings pond undergoing reclamation to determine sulfide generation patterns and the behavior of O2. In the microcosms, hydrogen sulfide fluxes correlated positively with biotic activity, reaching levels of over 2 × 103 nmol cm−2 s−1, leading to Fe sulfide formation. Depth-related hydrogen sulfide profiles in the microcosms were comparable to those encountered in situ, in Syncrude’s West In-Pit, an active tailing pond. Oxygen diffusion across the fluid fine tailing sediment–water interface was controlled to different degrees by both biotic and abiotic processes. The results have implications for quantitatively estimating the impact of hydrogen sulfide production, O2 availability, and biogeochemical cycling of key nutrients important for the success of life in fluid fine tailings-affected ecosystems. This paper shows that this production of hydrogen sulfide may be a self-limiting process, which will begin to decrease after a period of time.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0883-2927
Date of Acceptance: 12 June 2013
Last Modified: 03 Nov 2022 09:44

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