Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) is Canada’s largest national park, approximately 45 000 km2
in areal extent. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is designated as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. WBNP is intensely karstified, exhibiting classic examples of surface phenomena thought to be associated with groundwater flow, such as extended salt plains, phreatophytic plant communities, springs with highly distinct chemical composition, caves, and strings of sinkholes. The geology and hydrogeology of the area have not been extensively studied mainly due to its protected status and poor accessibility. Interest in the area has recently increased, driven partly by scientific curiosity and partly for practical reasons: increased recreational use of the park necessitates evaluation of natural resources; the only nesting area of the highly endangered Whooping Crane needs protection; and, the potential impacts of anticipated mining activities to the north and oil-sand development to the south require quantification.
Groundwater plays a central role in all these issues. Thus, the basic question of the research is: what are the hydrogeologic conditions of the region and how can an inaccessible area of this size be characterized?
We are developing a hydrogeological reconnaissance method for karst regions based on the integrated use of groundwater flow system analysis, karst geology and remote sensing. Here we present the results of the first phase of the project including results of reconnaissance mapping coupled with topographical and geological characterization of the area. Subsequently we present preliminary results of the flow system analysis through examples of numerically calculated flow fields.