Research Project Information

Research Project Summary Information

Assessment of Nitrogen & Acidic Deposition Impacts of Terrestrial & Aquatic Ecosystems of Tug Hill(ST8646-1)

SUNY Research Foundation


The Tug Hill region in New York State consistently receives among the highest levels of acidic and nitrogen deposition in the eastern United States. Compared to other regions of New York that are impacted by atmospheric deposition (e.g., Adirondacks, Catskills, Allegheny Plateau) the Tug Hill has the highest long-term (1980-2002) average annual deposition rates for NH4+, NO3-, total inorganic N, SO42-, and H+. Given that the Tug Hill forests are compositionally and historically similar to those of the Adirondacks and northern New England, that much of the region possesses strongly acidic soils, and that the Tug Hill receives 1.9- and 1.5-fold greater total N and H+ loading than the central Adirondacks, great potential exists for the Tug Hill to display symptoms of N saturation and acidification. Still, there have been no regional assessments of atmospheric deposition effects on Tug Hill's forests and streams. Given the significance of the Tug Hill for plant and wildlife habitat, forest products, fisheries, and drinking water, it is critical to understand the extent to which the region's aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems are being impacted by excess N and acidic deposition.

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Project Description

The Contractor will survey surface water quality at 75 sites during snowmelt and baseflow conditions over a two-year period. At adjacent locations soil chemistry, forest vegetative composition, and live plant chemistry will be sampled. Field data will be synthesized to determine regional impacts and variation among sites.


This project data will assist in the development of sound policies for the management and protection of New York's forest resources impacted by acid deposition. This research would expand the understanding of atmospheric deposition effects on aquatic systems and forests to a New York sensitive region not yet well explored.

Project Results

Although the Tug Hill region appears to have substantially more buffering capacity than other forested regions of New York (i.e., Adirondacks and Catskills), the region is displaying signs of potential negative impacts due to acid deposition. Average surface water pH remained circumneutral during both summer base flow periods of our study, but during spring snowmelts episodic surface water pH averaged 4.2-5.5, levels which begin to surpass tolerance thresholds of many aquatic invertebrates. Analyses of foliar tissue chemistry also reveal signals of potential negative impacts of acidification to the region’s forests including lowered levels of Mg, and low Ca:Al ratios which suggest leaching of Ca from soils, which in turn initiates nutrient imbalances in plants. The Tug Hill soils displayed higher buffering capacity than western Adirondack soils, but still, 52% of the soil samples exhibited base saturations less than 10%, suggesting potential for future acidification. A number of soil, surface water and tissue chemistry indices suggest that the Tug Hill region is accumulating N and may be entering early stages of saturation. All forest floor samples had C:N ratios below 22, the level at which elevated nitrification rates have been demonstrated to occur. All of this suggests that the Tug Hill region is experiencing early acidification effects, and may experience greater effects in coming years.


SUNY Research Foundation
Empire State Plaza Concourse Level Rm 106
Albany, NY 12224

Principle Investigator

Gregory McGee

Universities Involved

SUNY College of Environmental Science an


Project Type:

Environmental Monitoring & Research

Technologies Types:

NYSERDA Contact Information

Gregory Lampman


R&D - Environment & Energy Res

Contract Details

Start Date: 1/11/2010
Project Status: Active
Contract Number: ST8646-1

Last Updated: 10/18/2013