Student Opportunities

The availability of potable water for human populations varies dramatically throughout the world and will remain an issue of primary concern as this resource is stressed by population increase and the uncertainty of climate change. In many places mining and industrial activities pose additional threats to water resources that can create human health or ecological concerns. Managing these risks is a significant challenge of our generation. Research projects focus on understanding the biogeochemical reactions and transport processes that affect groundwater quality in and around mining and industrial sites with a focus on improving strategies for managing waste and remediating contaminated sites. Research involves the study of fundamental physical, hydrological, and biogeochemical processes that control contaminant fate and are also relevant to a broad range of issues in earth and environmental sciences.

Student projects will involve the integration of leading edge field sampling techniques, well developed laboratory studies to isolate and investigate specific processes of interest, and the development and application of numerical models to aid in the interpretation of the data collected. In addition, students will have the opportunity to work within multidisciplinary teams involving university and government researchers as well as industrial partners to gain a broader perspective on relevant issues to industry and society.

Interested students should contact Prof. Amos at Richard [dot] Amos [at] Carleton [dot] ca

Potential Projects

Gas Transport in Waste Rock
Waste rock is a by-product of hard-rock mining and has the potential to produce acid mine drainage (AMD) and impact the environment if it is not managed properly. An important aspect to understanding and controlling acid mine drainage is gas transport. In unsaturated waste-rock piles, the transport of oxygen and heat in the gas phase can significantly impact the geochemical conditions within the waste-rock pile and the potential impact on the environment. Research at the Diavik Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories has involved extensive instrumentation and monitoring of waste-rock piles to determine the processes controlling gas transport and their impacts on AMD generation. Projects will involve the continued monitoring of the instrumentation network and interpretation of the long-term data set that had been accumulated. 

Students installing solar-powered gas transport monitoring system at the Detour Gold Mine.Students installing solar-powered gas transport monitoring system at the Detour Gold Mine.

Natural Attenuation of Petroleum Hydrocarbons
The transport and storage of petroleum products often leads to spills from leaky tanks or pipeline ruptures. In groundwater, hydrocarbons will often degrade through biological processes without additional human intervention – a process called ‘natural attenuation’, or ‘monitored natural attenuation’ to emphasise that the polluter must still actively monitor and demonstrate contaminant attenuation. The degradation of light hydrocarbons (also known as light non-aqueous phase liquids; LNAPLS) inherently involves processes occurring at the interface between the groundwater and the overlying unsaturated zone. In this area, the interaction of gases such as oxygen from the atmosphere, and methane and volatile hydrocarbons play an important role in controlling the extent of degradation and transport of contaminant in the groundwater. Research is currently focused on laboratory experiments to specifically quantify physical and geochemical processes at the water table that affect contaminant degradation and transport. 

Oil oozing from a core collected 10 m below the ground surface, 25 years after the spill.
Oil oozing from a core collected 10 m below the ground surface, 25 years after the spill.

 Transport of Volatile Contaminants at a Low-level Nuclear Waste Facility
Studies at the Amargosa Desert Research Site (ADRS) conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have indicated transport of tritium (3H), mercury and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including CFCs, from an unlined low-level nuclear waste disposal facility that was operated from 1962 through 1992. In this arid region, these contaminants are transported in the gas phase within the unsaturated zone above the deep water table. Although several studies have been conducted the processes controlling contaminant transport in this system are not well understood. Projects will include a combination of numerical modelling and lab or field studies to constrain the processes and provide better estimates of the potential extent of contaminant migration from nuclear waste facilities.

Development and Application of Reactive Transport Models to Contaminated Systems
Reactive transport models (RTM) are sophisticated numerical models that can be used to simulate complex geochemical systems including the coupling of both physical transport processes and geochemical reactions. RTM provide a means of quantifying the processes occurring in complex contaminated subsurface systems so that the nature of the processes and their rates can be better understood. These models are constantly being developed to reflect our growing understanding of geochemical processes, coupling of geochemical and physical processes, and methods of investigating and analyzing these processes. Modelling projects can be stand-alone or combined with laboratory and field investigation, and will include;

  • Development of a reactive transport model to describe the physical transport and geochemical interactions of nano-scale colloids in porous media.
  • Simulation of carbon isotope fractionation in contaminated multiphase gas/water systems.
  • Simulation of metal isotope fractionation in contaminated and contaminant remediation systems.
  • Development of a reactive transport model to describe gas bubble migration and geochemical interactions in contaminated groundwater.
  • Simulation of gas transport processes in unsaturated sediments.

Students marking sampling points for waste-rock study.Students marking sampling points for waste-rock study.