Sensitivity of Plant Communities and Soil Flora to Seawater Spills, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska,
COLORADO UNIV AT BOULDER INST OF ARCTIC AND ALPINE RESEARCH
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Secondary recovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, will involve transporting large quantities of seawater in elevated pipelines across tundra for injection into oil-bearing rock strata. The possibility of a pipeline rupture raises questions concerning the effects of seawater on tundra vegetation and soils. To evaluate the relative sensitivities of different plant communities to seawater, eight sites representing the range of vegetation types along the pipeline route were treated with single, saturating applications of seawater during the summer of 1980. Within a month of the treatment 30 of 37 taxa of shrubs and forbs in the experimental plots developed clear symptoms of stress, while none of the 14 graminoid taxa showed apparent adverse affects. Live vascular plant cover was thus reduced by 89 and 91 in the two dry sites and by 54, 74 and 83 in the three moist sites, respectively. Livegreen bryophyte cover was markedly reduced in the moist experimental sites in 1981. Bryophytes in all but one of the wet-site experimental plots were apparently unaffected by the seawater treatment. Two species of foliose lichens treated with seawater showed marked deterioration in 1981. All other lichen taxa were apparently unaffected by the seawater treatment. The absorption and retention of salts by the soil is inversely related to the soil moisture regime. In the wet sites, conductivities approached prespill levels within about 30 days. In such sites, spills at the experimental volumes are quickly diluted and the salts flushed from the soil. In the dry sites, on the other hand, salts are retained in the soil, apparently concentrating at or near the seasonal thaw line.
- Anatomy and Physiology