A University of Alberta graduate student may have found a way to speed up the long, expensive process of reclaiming land torn up for oilsands extraction.

Prem Pokharel’s master’s thesis showed that loading jack pine and trembling aspen seedlings with extra nitrogen and other nutrients before they were put in the ground at two former northern Alberta mining sites meant the trees grew more quickly.

“The plants (usually) grow very slowly. Because of that, the whole process of remediation and restoration is occurring very slowly,” explained Pokharel in an article published in the Edmonton Journal.

His work in 2013-16 involved a couple of thousand seedlings at two unidentified locations totaling about one hectare 25 km north of Fort McMurray.

“In reclaimed soil, we want some sort of canopy. It helps the growth of plants under the trees, which will lead to more vegetation and animals,” said Pokharel, who moved to Canada from his native Nepal in 2012 with a background in plant science.

“It helps develop a natural ecosystem.”

Pokharel recently received the US$1,000 best thesis award at the Las Vegas conference of the Western Association of Graduate Schools, made up of 200 institutions in Canada, the western U.S., and the Pacific Rim.

He’s now working toward a Ph.D. in plant science.

Scott Chang, a professor in the U of A’s department of renewable resources and Pokharel’s thesis supervisor, said the tiny trees initially don’t have a good root system and must battle weeds in disturbed soil that’s often poorly nourished, so they need all the help they can get.

Read the entire article here.