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Jessica is building forests and wetlands to reclaim mined lands.

“It’s the Sandhill Fen research watershed. It’s built on tailings. We’re actually learning how you can build forests to support wetlands, and that’s really new.”

Since so much of northern Alberta is composed of Boreal wetlands, learning how to regrow them is very important for reclaiming mined oil sands. A fully functioning fen provides habitat for numerous plants, birds and other wildlife. And it’s a carbon sink, which means it naturally locks away greenhouse gases. The Sandhill Fen is not only one of the first attempts to recreate a fen, it’s an ongoing research facility.

Fens are wetlands that produce peat. They can take thousands of years to grow. By studying the Sandhill Fen, researchers hope to speed up this process. This 57-hectare watershed was built on reclaimed tailings – a first for the industry. Designed to follow the form of a natural fen, the Sandhill Fen will allow scientists to study how plants respond to varying levels of wetness and salinity. In addition, researchers will be able to observe how upland species, such as trees, interact with and support lowland species. In time, it’s hoped that our ability to rebuild ecosystems will lead to reclaimed fens that are indistinguishable from fens that have been around forever.

Has the Sandhill Fen produced any peat yet?

The researchers monitoring plant growth across the Sandhill Fen have found peat growing at several locations. This is a key discovery for the project as it is much sooner than predicted. We are also tracking the carbon cycle on the site and all data shows the wetland is becoming a carbon sink.

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