Experimental assessment of Athabasca River cohesive sediment deposition dynamics

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Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) originating from natural sources, and potentially from the Athabasca Oil Sands development, are of concern for the Athabasca River and Lake Athabasca delta ecosystems. In order to model the transport of fine sediments (and associated PAHs), it is important to describe the sediment dynamics within the river system. Flocs possess different settling characteristics compared to individual particles. A key aspect in modelling floc settling behaviour is the mathematical linkage of the floc density to floc size. In this paper, a rotating annular flume is used to determine the settling characteristics of Muskeg River (a tributary of the Athabasca River) sediments under different shear conditions. Simulations of the settling and flocculation behaviour of these sediments were used to calibrate a density vs. floc size model. A relationship of the parameters relating floc size and density with the fractal dimension F shows that as diameter increases flocs become weaker. Recommendations for the practical application of the model are further formulated in this paper. The deposition tests offer a quantitative measure of the relative amount of sediment that is likely to be transported through the river for given flow conditions.

Keywords: cohesive sediments, floc density, floc porosity, rotating annular flume, settling velocity

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