Our research program is diverse and reflects ongoing needs for new science coupled with the interests and expertise of the AWI Team. We conduct a combination of fundamental and applied research, with all of our research efforts rooted in practical needs for science to inform and support policies and management to conserve and protect our natural resources. Consistent with our mission, another key aspect of our research program is undergraduate education, wherein we involve Paul Smith's College students in all aspects of the research process in the same ways as graduate students are involved at other institutions. Thus, our students also present their work at conferences and co-author publications.

The overarching theme of our research program is Ecosystem Responses to Environmental Change, under which we investigate the gradual to abrupt changes that occur in ecosystems in response to environmental stressors. Environmental stressors being investigated by our team range from large-scale factors such as climate change, acid deposition, and invasive species to local factors such as shoreline development and road runoff. The goal of our projects within this theme is to determine whether and how these factors drive changes in ecosystems, which will then allow ecosystem responses to these factors to be understood and modeled.

The data collected from our regional network of lakes and streams being monitored under our water quality program plus the aquatic plant and invasive species data collected by our invasive species program provides the foundation for our investigations of environmental stressors. For example, we used the water quality data to determine the effect of watershed road density on sodium and chloride in lakes (Kelting and Laxson 2010; Kelting et al. 2012). We also conduct laboratory studies in controlled environments to investigate and understand the effects of stressors. For example, as a follow-on to the above study, we examined the effects of salt concentrations on model freshwater communities in the laboratory and found significant negative effects of salt within the range of concentrations observed in our field program (Dalinsky et al. 2014).

Examples of current projects within our research program include:

  • Determining the regional effects of road salting on watershed nutrient export and soil base cation depletion
  • Determining the regional effects of road networks and road runoff on stream water quality and associated aquatic ecosystems
  • Investigating the effects of water temperature on growth rates of native and invasive milfoil species in laboratory mesocosms in an effort to understand how climate change may affect aquatic plant communities
  • Developing environmental DNA methods (both field sampling technique and laboratory bench work) for surveillance of Asian clam and Zebra mussel

Some recent examples of Paul Smith's College senior thesis capstone projects completed under the mentorship of AWI team members include:

  • Contribution Of Streamside Seeps To Stream Flow in the Smitty Creek Watershed (JD Lambrinos)
  • Presence and Abundance of Microplastics within Flowing Waters of Private, Wilderness, and Other Forest Preserve Lands of the Northern Adirondack Park (Sinjin Larson and Patrick Colern)
  • Possible Limiting Nutrients to Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) Growth in an Adirondack Hardwood Stand (Kevin Kenealy)
  • Effects of Road Salt on Soil Fertility in the Paul Smiths Area of Northern New York (Dylan Kirk)
  • Assessment of Anion Retention within Variable-Charged Eastern-Central Adirondack Forest Sub-Soils (John Mullins)
  • The Role of Terrestrial Leaf Litter Inputs on Drift of Aquatic Invertebrate Shredders (Zachary Simek)

Please contact us if you would like to learn more about our research program or are interested in a potential collaboration. We have well equipped facilities and are capable of performing and supporting a wide array of research activities.

Research Program
Microplastics in Adirondack Waters

Plastic particulate pollution is a growing threat to aquatic organism health. Large pieces of plastics are broken down through natural processes of erosion and transferred throughout our environments. When large pieces of plastic break down they take the form of microplastics which are ingested by aquatic organisms who mistake the microplastics as food. Ingested microplastics may harm these organisms through physical blockages and leaching of toxic chemicals. Microplastics also bioaccumulate up the food web. The purpose of our project was to determine the presence and abundance of microplastics in streams in the Saranac River watershed. We sampled 15 streams within this watershed and found microplastics in 12 of the streams. The abundance of microplastic particles within these 12 streams varied greatly, with the highest abundance observed downstream of two large campgrounds. These findings confirm that microplastics are present in Adirondack waters, and suggest that further studies are warranted to both understand the geographic extent of microplastic pollution and the effects of these pollutants on our aquatic organisms. This project was completed by Sinjin Larson and Patrick Colern as part of their senior capstone thesis requirement.

Learn More
We’ve been exploring the use of a @ Trident ROV to monitor for aquatic invasive species and expand our ed…
This site is part of a network we’re building to monitor water level and temperature in lakes across the Adirondack…
News & Events

Earn a Certificate in Invasive Species Spread Prevention from Paul Smith's College and help protect clean water. Self-guided...


Celebrate the second Adirondack Water Week on August 22 - 28, 2021. The weeklong regional event is a collaborative celebration...

Join now! Enter your contact information below to receive news and updates about the Adirondack Watershed Institute.

The mission of the Adirondack Watershed Institute of Paul Smith's College is to protect clean water, conserve habitat, and support the health and well-being of people in the Adirondacks through science, collaboration, and real world experiences for students.

Adirondack Watershed Institute
Paul Smith's College
P.O. Box 265, Paul Smiths, NY 12970-0244
Tel: 518-327-6213
Fax: 518-327-6369