Weinthal specializes in global environmental politics and natural resource policies with a particular emphasis on water and energy. The main focus of her research is on the origins and effects of environmental institutions and the role of environmental activism. Her previous research examined the impact of multilateral and bilateral development organizations on water resource management and institution building in the Aral Sea basin in Central Asia. Her book, State Making and Environmental Cooperation: Linking Domestic Politics and International Politics in Central Asia (MIT Press, 2002) was the recipient of the 2003 Chadwick Alger Prize and the 2003 Lynton Keith Caldwell Prize. Weinthal co-authored Oil is Not a Curse, which examines the relationship between ownership structure and fiscal outcomes in the Soviet successor states. She is also an editor of the new publication Water and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding, which focuses on the ways in which water resources can be harnessed for fostering human security, economic development and regional cooperation. Weinthal is a member of the UNEP Expert Advisory Group on Environment, Conflict and Peacebuilding.

As a participant in the Scholarship, Advocacy and Activism: Duke Faculty Perspectives on Human Rights series, sponsored by the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute, Weinthal talks about her research on the role of natural resources in conflict and peace making and on access to water and sanitation in the aftermath of war.