The Society for Ecological Restoration’s (SER) 5th World Conference on Ecological Restoration is fast approaching and RIEL PhD candidate Jillianne Segura is in the thick of preparations as Charles Darwin University’s sole delegate.
Jillianne Segura with waste rock laterite
This year’s conference is to be held in Madison, Wisconsin (at the very impressive-looking, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace Community and Convention Centre). Madison is daubed the ‘birthplace of ecological restoration’ following successful attempts during the Great Depression to restore severely eroded agricultural land in the area back to the original prairie. The SER2013 World Conference will revolve around the theme ‘Reflections on the Past, Directions for the Future’ – a fitting focus for Jill’s presentation.
Jill’s presentation, entitled ‘Is there enough water in waste-rock substrates to restore a functional tropical savanna to mined lands in northern Australia?’, will incorporate her research into the ecohydrology of mine restoration strategies at Energy Resources of Australia’s (ERA) Ranger uranium mine.
“When miners dig up the earth they create waste rock piles and they use those waste rock piles to create land forms because in the end they have to restore the site,” Jill explains. “Historically mines have used vegetation as a tool to limit deep infiltration of water into this waste rock, because if there’s too much of that happening then the water can leach through and contaminate the surrounding ecosystem.
“What my project is working on is instead of designing a landform and using trees as a tool, I’m looking at whether a landform is able to host the natural ecosystem that was present prior to mining. If the landform is unable to host the target ecosystem due to an inability to supply required moisture (and nutrients), I will then develop and test different designs by modifying the substrate mixtures and layers and test their ability to host a savanna using calibrated ecohydrological models.”
Apart from meeting fellow Australians working in the field of ecological restoration (of which there are seven out of 750 presenters) and other researchers involved in work akin to her own, Jill is excited about the SER conference for the chance to check out the surrounding area.
“On the fifth and last day of the conference there are a selection of field trips” says Jill. “I’m going out to Quincy Bluff, which is a nature conservancy park with stunning prairie and woodlands, which hopefully I will see in brilliant autumn colours. Plus they’re looking at the role of fire and water – and even how the site has been restored after a tornado ripped through it – so I’m really looking forward to seeing that and learning about that.”
Jill is two and a half years through her PhD project and is on the cusp of making some major headway: “Because my research project involves a modelling program, it takes a while to get the model working and calibrated,” she explains. “Usually at the start you have a hard time where you get nothing, and then the modelling starts working. I’m at the point where it’s starting to work. I’ve got one program working almost perfectly, and then I want to use a parameter estimation model (PEST) which will calibrate my model within strict guidelines. It’s possible I could get results overnight. So it’s a very exciting point!”
Jill will also be heading to Canada after the conference as a guest speaker at the University of Saskatchewan. She will also be talking to the Saskatoon Geotechnical Group and the Saskatoon branch of the environmental engineering company Golder Associates. Jill will meet with Dr Del Fredlund, a pioneer in unsaturated soil hydrology, and also Professor Lee Barbour who has a wealth of experience in mine-site material hydrology and restoration, whilst in Saskatoon and touring their laboratories. Jill will visit an Oil Sands Mine at Fort McMurray with the University of Alberta’s Professor Ward Wilson to look at their restoration efforts. These academics are experts in their field and Canada is one of the leaders in mine site landform design research.