Research being conducted in the man-made Nikanotee Fen (pronounced Nee-ga-no-tee; the Cree word for “future”) will enhance understanding of how to re-establish wetlands on reclaimed land. Wetlands form a large part of the local ecosystem, and they naturally capture and store carbon. These peat-forming plant communities also provide a very specific habitat for wildlife and plant species, many of which are of cultural significance to aboriginal communities.
Oil sands companies are committed to returning the landscape to its natural state at the end of an oil sands mine’s life. This includes reclaiming wetlands such as fens and marshes. Fens are peat-forming wetlands, similar to bogs; however, they are fed primarily by groundwater rather than surface water. Fens can take many years to grow. Research can help shorten the timeline. Scientists from across the continent and industry partners are working to determine what are the best ways to rebuild and replant these areas so that they’re no different from undisturbed wetlands. In a sense, making mined lands as good as old, with the same diversity of flora and fauna.
How long does it take to grow a fen?
Fens take thousands of years to form. The fact that we are already seeing the Nikanotee Fen acting as a carbon sink, meaning carbon accumulating within it, is a promising sign that the system will slowly build up and form peat like a natural fen.