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Performance Assessment and Hydrologic Modeling of reconstructed watersheds and reclamation strategies.

This research project aims at developing a framework to help understand the dynamics of the hydrologic processes that are dominant on the reconstructed watersheds as a result of different reclamation strategies. The overall goal of the intended framework is to help the oil sands mining industry as well as the regulators develop, adopt, and enforce a sustainable reclamation strategy. Such a strategy requires a comprehensive understanding of both short-term and long-term evolution of reclaimed watersheds. Since 1999, the oil sands mining industry has launched an extensive monitoring program installed on experimental covers in Northern Alberta, Canada. The sizable amount of meteorological, hydrological, hydrogeological, and ecological data collected, although apparently useful and desirable, can lead to paralysis of analysis in the absence of a framework that guides all stakeholders through the decision-making process.

The framework is founded on the ongoing program of extensive monitoring. Initial understanding is used to go through two parallel approaches of mechanistic and inductive (data-driven) modeling of the reconstructed watersheds as a not fully understood system. The outputs from the two different approaches will be used to encapsulate the initial understanding of the system within a prescriptive decision analysis (DA) approach that entails comprehensive and detailed sensitivity and uncertainty analyses. The DA approach along with the initial understanding of the system of reclaimed watersheds, which is fed with knowledge gained from comparison with natural systems, will be utilized to provide feedback to the monitoring program and the modeling exercise. Re-directed monitoring and refined modeling will help achieve the desired comprehensive understanding of the system of reclaimed watersheds. Finally, the system understanding can be quantified towards modifying existing regulations and reclamation practices to develop sustainable reclamation strategy (SRS).