Interactive Monitoring Map 

2011 Symposium and APW

In late May of 2011, WBEA hosted an International Symposium entitled "Alberta Oil Sands: Energy, Industry, and the Environment" and the 43rd Air Pollution Workshop (APW). During the two events WBEA welcomed many scientists working on air quality monitoring, and air quality effects to the RMWB.

Over 100 delegates from Canada, the US, Europe and Japan met for five days of scientific presentations, meetings, tours and discussion.  The first three keynote Symposium presentations provided the context for the roll-out of WBEA’s innovative science.

  • Dr. Ray Orbach is Director of The Energy Institute, University of Texas at Austin. His presentation entitled “Energy Production: A Global perspective” analyzed Canada’s oil production in the context of future global energy demands and offered some economically feasible solutions for CO2 capture and storage and global climate change.
    Energy Production: A Global Perspective
  • Greg Stringham, representing the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, spoke about the challenges faced by oil sands producers to continually improve environmental and economic performance, while providing a stable source of energy for the world.
    Canada Oil Sands: Environment, Economy, Energy
  • Mark Lowey of the Institute for Sustainable Energy, University of Calgary presented a paper entitled, “Energy and the Environment: Achieving the Balance” which explored the economic benefits of Alberta’s energy resources and innovative management of air pollution and greenhouse gases. Two oil sands focused research projects led by the University of Calgary were also described to the audience.
    Energy and Environment: Achieving the Balance

These initial three presentations set the stage for the introduction of results of WBEA’s innovative scientific monitoring. Please click to download the full program, complete with abstracts: Symposium & APW Program Booklet (May 23 - May 26, 2011).

Please click to read the Symposium & APW feature article that appeared in the Spring 2011 edition of Big Spirit Magazine (a community based publication produced by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo).

In November of 2012 WBEA published a detailed book that synthesizes the results and concepts of WBEA’s 2008-2012 scientifically enhanced monitoring work. Alberta Oil Sands: Energy, Industry and the Environment offers a wide ranging look at significant environmental indicators of air quality and the state of the terrestrial environment in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR).

The content for the majority of the chapters was drawn from presentations made at the WBEA’s 2011 International Symposium. The remaining chapters are drawn from associated projects funded and managed by WBEA as part of its strategic science enhancement.

Alberta Oil Sands: Energy, Industry and the Environment is available for purchase online at: http://www.amazon.ca/Alberta- Oil-Sands-Industry- Environment/dp/008097760X

During 2006-2007, scientific reviews of our programs recommended a more scientific and integrated approach to WBEA’s monitoring in the region.  WBEA’s membership supported this new way forward and in 2008, the new projects and redesigned programs rolled out. WBEA is transitioning to a more regional monitoring focus by use of specialized instruments, methods and research technologies, and has built a team of over 30 contracted international scientists and advisors – many of whom were among the over 100 delegates who presented their results at the May meetings.

Some Symposium highlights include:

  • Dr. Judith Chow of the Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada, USA, presented results of pioneering work on heavy hauler emissions at the Symposium.  A specially designed portable emission monitoring system was placed on-board mine heavy haulers and has produced the first “real-world” data on emissions during their routine operation. These findings will be used to evaluate emission factors and could increase accuracy in industry, provincial and federal emissions data bases.
  • Dr. John Watson of the Desert Research Institute, presented results of novel dilution sampling measurements of stack emissions, using instrumentation that produces “real – world “ emission factors and rates by simulating plume chemistry as it would  exist in the ambient air downwind of the stacks.

WBEA has shifted its terrestrial monitoring to a more scientifically robust, ecosystem-based, “source to sink” approach.  “Source to sink” monitoring starts at the emission point (source) of air pollutants and traces pollutant transformation, transfer, deposition to the landscape, and uptake by forests (sink).

Through our new projects, such as source characterization and apportionment, WBEA is now able to, identify the origin of sulphur and trace metals measured in terrestrial receptors.  Many of these studies involve highly accurate and precise analysis of lichens. Lichens are small organisms found growing on rocks, trees and soil. They are long lived, considered very good indicators of relative pollutant loading, and are bio-monitors of air pollutants.  

WBEA scientists have analysed lichens from 360 sites throughout the RMWB.  

  • Dr. Eric Edgerton, from Atmospheric Research & Analysis, Inc., NC, USA, investigated the elemental composition of lichens and with colleagues has developed improved analytical procedures.  This has produced a higher-level of quality assurance than routinely available before.
  • Mercury has been identified as is an important environmental issue in the RMWB. Dr. Joel Blum of the University of Michigan, USA, reported on analysis of mercury in the same lichens.  Dr. Blum is an expert on the use of stable mercury isotopes to identify source contribution.
  • WBEA’s work will attribute – for the first time in the region – proportions of sulphur, nitrogen, and  forty-two trace metals found in lichens back to sources type, such as oil sands processing, forest fires, transportation or windblown dust.  In this way, the actual contribution of oil sands operations can be scientifically determined.  Dr. Joe Graney of Binghamton University, NY, USA and Dr. Matt Landis, USEPA, reported on two aspects of this work, part of the WBEA receptor modelling project.
    The scientific papers presented at the Symposium, and other WBEA sponsored research, will be published by Elsevier, Oxford, UK, in a peer reviewed scientific textbook, in 2012.

The 43rd Air Pollution Workshop, which followed on from the Symposium, is an annual forum for discussion among researchers on a wide variety of air pollution related research, especially effects upon plants.

Some of the papers presented were:

  • “The Clean Air Strategic Alliance – Building Shared Strategies to Improve Air Quality: The Road Ahead, by Linda Jabs, CASA, AB, Canada
  • “Insights from Model Plants on Ozone Response Mechanisms” , Fitz Booker, USDA-ARS Plant Science Research Unit and Dept. of Crop Science at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA
  • “Air Quality Trends in Europe since 2000”, J. Neil Cape, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Penicuik, Midlothian, UK


The Symposium and Workshop were an acknowledgment of WBEA’s new science direction.  From our ambient air monitoring network, to our augmented terrestrial ecosystem studies, and new “real –world” emissions characterization, WBEA has increased its monitoring activities while retaining needed flexibility to address emerging environmental issues.

The first four year phase of many new WBEA projects will be completed in 2011, with infrastructure and systems continuing to be deployed.  WBEA will continue to report on new scientific results of our work as they emerge.