Professor Fuller Presents Findings in Environmental Studies Brown Bag

Luke Felty, Maroon-News Staff

Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Randall Fuller spoke at an Environmental Studies Brown Bag called “Effects of In-stream and Whole Ecosystem Lime Applications on Adirondack Stream Ecosystems” in the Africana, Latin American, Asian American and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center on Friday, October 2. The event was part of a lecture series covering topics in the Environmental Studies discipline. Fuller presented some of his findings from a study conducted by a group of scientists in the Adirondacks, in which lime was applied to certain key areas. The object of these studies was to test the environmental impacts of lime application on soil and streams. Fuller’s findings show that lime application can have a positive effect on fish populations by helping to neutralize the acid content in water, which threatens the species. 

Fuller began his presentation by explaining how acid deposition resulting from factory pollution ends up in the Adirondacks through acid rain. More acidic water results in damages to wildlife as well as plants and trees where polluted water comes into contact with the soil. The most prominent type of stone in the Adirondacks, granite, has a low calcium content. Because calcium is integral to neutralizing the acid content of these streams, there is a heightened level of acid in these waters. This results in a decrease in the water’s pH, a measure of acidity commonly used by scientists. Such a decrease indicates that the water is more acidic. Thus the goal of lime application is to deposit pelletized limestone into soils and streams to help neutralize the acid and raise the pH to normal levels. 

Fuller joked as he presented a slide with pictures of Adirondack streams from the study.

“Even an acid stream looks nice,” he said. While these streams may look normal, the acid content in water has many negative impacts on ecosystems. Most notable of these impacts is a buildup of residue that covers the gills of young fish, resulting in their suffocation and making it difficult for them to repopulate these areas. Similar dangers are posed to other types of aquatic life such as micro-invertebrates.

Lime application is an expensive process that requires several tons of pelletized limestone to be dispersed across an area from above by a helicopter. Fuller showed a short video of a helicopter flying over a drainage basin with the pelletized limestone in tow. Application via helicopter in a single area can cost up to $150,000, which must be funded by the environmental groups sponsoring the studies. 

In presenting his findings, Fuller noted that lime application had notably positive effects on fish populations. When the pH moved closer to the normal level of 5.6, fish populations showed signs of improvement.

“From the fish standpoint they come back really, really fast,” Fuller said in response to an audience member’s question.

Fuller also noted that the application of pelletized lime to these areas may harm populations of some types of micro-invertebrates and microbial organisms. However, he indicated that the overall impact of lime application seemed to be positive for Adirondack ecosystems.

“The reason we’re doing this is because of those fish. Recently, fisherman in these areas have caught trout up to four pounds,” Fuller said, concluding his lecture by showing a photo of fish from these streams placed in a cooler.