Land Reclamation

The reclamation and landscape development team of HAI researchers focuses on reclamation of large scale disturbances. These disturbances include oil sands and coal mining in Canada and Germany.

Why Is this Research Important?

The rate at which land is being disturbed for industrial development is increasing rapidly on a global scale. This parallels the rising global population. Thus, one of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century is to reclaim disturbed lands around the world to secure the livelihood of future generations. As an example, mining in the Athabasca oil sands region of Alberta has disturbed over 500 km2 which is projected to increase to 140,000 km2. To develop a sustainable boreal landscape in oil sands areas, a mosaic of uplands, wetlands and lakes connected by a network of streams must all interact. Research will help industry to define and develop a sustainable landscape with cost effective and successful plans for reclamation.

Scientific Background

The impacts of industrial activities on ecosystem degradation and sustainability need to be addressed. For successful reintegration of post disturbed land into its natural environment, early ecological processes, including soil and plant community development, must be understood. Identification of essential components of ecosystem development, and how these processes can be manipulated by land reclamation techniques will aid in reclamation protocols that enhance natural processes. Ecosystem development questions will be superimposed with management and system manipulation questions. They include identifying amendments or alterations to the newly developing system that will augment and speed natural processes and potentially alter development patterns for sustained ecosystem development.

Research focus

  • Soil biology and microbiology including microbial population and community development, microbial impact on soil development, microbial impact on plant establishment, soil faunal community development, microbially facilitated degradation and attenuation of contaminants.
  • Soil physics including formation of soil structures such as aggregates and pores, soil stability, hydropedological properties, compaction.
  • Soil chemistry including mineral transformation, surface sorption and desorption, soil solution interactions, soil nutrient cycling, plant nutrient loading, salts movement, salts development.
  • Soil hydrology including infiltration, percolation, soil water dynamics and balance, runoff water quantity and quality.
  • Soil geomorphology including initial soil development, soil erosion, soil material transport, soil material sedimentation, evolution of land forms.
  • Soil organic matter including organic matter development, accumulation and stabilization of organic matter, hydrophobicity, surface interaction with soil organic matter, biological crusts.
  • Soil plant relationships including plant response to soil conditions, uptake of nutrients and water, response to contaminants, tolerance and amelioration of inhospitable substrates, community and ecosystem development, contaminant remediation, phytoremediation.
  • Plant community ecology, microsite conditions, plant propagule dispersion, seed and bud banks, growth strategies and resource capture, early succession and plant community development including tree canopy and understory communities.
  • Soil rhizosphere including soil-root relationships, root response to substrate amendments, microbial diversity, root impacts on soil and hydrologic properties, carbon budgets.
  • Reclamation and revegetation techniques and modifications of existing techniques including pairing plant species and soil conditions, contaminant remediation, amelioration of soil properties via amendments, physical alterations of substrates, rebuilt system implementation.
  • Modeling to unify research disciplines and sub disciplines including plotting trajectories of initial ecosystem to end land use conditions, models linking ecological components.

Research Coordinators

Dr Bernd Uwe Schneider
Head of Staff of the Scientific Executive Board
Helmholtz Centre Potsdam
GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences
Potsdam, Germany

Dr M. Anne Naeth
Department of Renewable Resources
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Coordinating Institutions: