Jan Ciborowski

Jan Ciborowski

Department of Biological Sciences
University of Calgary

Chair title

NSERC/COSIA Industrial Research Chair in Oil Sands Wetland Reclamation

Chair program

Industrial Research Chairs program


Senior Chair since 2020


Open pit and in situ bitumen mining are a dominant economic and ecological focus in Canada. Almost 900 km2 of the 4,800 km2 surface mineable area in Alberta has been cleared, leading to extraction and production of 1.25 million barrels/day of crude bitumen in 2017. The natural landscape of the Athabasca oil sands (AOS) region is dominated by wetlands and peatlands. Reclaiming these landscapes following closure of a mine requires new knowledge and techniques to develop the best practices for reconstructing forests and wetlands to achieve their former roles in the ecosystem. While the mining industry is currently creating new wetlands in the reclaimed landscape, the methods by which to evaluate the success of these efforts are lacking. However, Canada’s regulators, society in general and the companies themselves need diagnostic tools to determine whether these young systems will become functional and acceptable components of the reclaimed landscapes as they age.

Dr. Jan Ciborowski's research investigates the biota of rivers, lakes and wetlands, their responses to disturbance and their role in transferring pollutants from sediments into the food web. Through his work in the Great Lakes and the Alberta oil sands region, he is recognized as a leader in understanding the effects of environmental disturbance, especially how our use of the landscape affects vegetation, invertebrates and fish, and the food web. This has led to his development of novel biological indicators of ecological conditions, which can be used as part of monitoring programs to detect adverse effects of human activities in the surrounding landscape.

Dr. Ciborowski has worked for over 20 years in partnership with oil sands companies to document how wetland communities within and near lease areas are affected by oil sands-derived sediments and water as well as wetlands’ shape, size and location in the landscape. His research with trainees and colleagues showed that plant and invertebrate community development in reclaimed wetlands (relative to reference sites) was slowed, owing mainly to tailings water toxicity, which declined over time. Reclaimed wetlands support diverse biological communities.

Dr. Ciborowski’s Research Chair, supported by Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) and Alberta Innovates, will develop the means to evaluate wetland reclamation success following bitumen mining. The program will demonstrate a novel method of characterizing and assessing the ecological condition of young wetlands in Alberta oil sands reclamation landscapes and ultimately enable industry to better reclaim land and promote biodiversity. His research will answer the following questions:

  • How can industry best predict the early development, biodiversity and persistence of wetlands in a reclaimed landscape, using knowledge of the environment and landscape?
  • What environmental or biological indicators best reflect long-term resilience and/or persistence in young wetlands?
  • What reclamation features will promote young wetlands' formation, resilience and persistence?

He and his team will study the functionality (based on wetland size, depth and water exchanges), water quality (amounts of salts and other compounds) and surrounding disturbance features of newly forming wetlands in the post-mining landscape. Biological surveys (of aquatic invertebrates, plants and birds) will show which of these features are most important in sustaining biodiversity as wetlands age.

The findings will provide a guide to developing ecologically sustainable wetlands in reclaimed landscapes in the AOS and elsewhere in Canada where extraction disturbs the landscape. Mining companies will be able to use the new assessment approach to evaluate their reclamation initiatives and the effectiveness of their wetland reclamation practices. The program will also train more than 30 undergraduate and graduate students, who will become experts in applying these critical research and assessment skills. The findings and expertise developed are essential to the needs of industrial partners in the AOS and across Canada, who must demonstrate the effectiveness of their reclamation activities to Canadian regulators and society.


  • Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA)

Contact information

Department of Biological Sciences
University of Calgary



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