A Clearer View: Jefferson Project plows through winter to collect more data on Lake George

Brian Nearing
January 3, 2014

(Lake George) Dmitry Kalyadin turned his back to a stiff breeze in 35­degree air as he finished installing weather instruments on a metal tower. The Russian native, now a Florida transplant, was alone that December afternoon, on the north end of Lake George, at a snow­covered state boat launch in Ticonderoga. Most people have no reason to be at the Mossy Point launch in winter, but Kalyadin was part of the Jefferson Project, a multimillion­dollar effort aimed at making Lake George the most measured and best understood body of water on the planet. The goal is to help protect the legendary clear waters that draw so many people, some of whom may be inadvertently making the lake sick.

Dmitry Kalyadin, a systems engineer for YSI Integrated Systems and Services, installs a weather sensor station near Lake George Thursday morning, Dec. 18, 2014, in Ticonderoga, N.Y. (Brian Nearing/Times Union)

Kalyadin was finishing the last of seven sensing stations scattered around the lake that will track weather and water quality in streams. The effort was launched in 2013 by computing giant IBM, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and lake advocacy group Fund for Lake George. “I'll be back in January to finish calibrating the instruments,” said Kalyadin, a systems engineer with Florida­based YSI Integrated Systems and Services, hired to fabricate and install the stations. “It will probably be colder than it is today.”

About 20 miles south in Bolton Landing, Rick Relyea sat in comfortable new conference room at RPI's Darrin Freshwater Institute, using a massive video screen to demonstrate what is called the “data visualization laboratory.” Here is where lake, stream and weather data drawn from a network of up to 40 sensors, once crunched in massive computers, will be turned into graphic
displays to explain how the 32­mile lake behaves and how it might change if some troubling trends continue. Surface sensors are connected to the lab via cellphone signal.

“This is our nerve center,” said Relyea, an aquatic ecologist who arrived last fall from the University of Pittsburgh to direct the project. “It is how we can show the public what is happening in Lake George.” That picture will include how weather, water that flows into the lake from about 140 feeder streams and the aquatic life all interact. “This is an enormously complicated challenge, but we're going to solve it,” Relyea said.

A high­resolution, 3­D map of the lake bottom and the surrounding mountains was created last summer. The map covers an area of about 230 square miles. By comparison, the city of Albany is 22 square miles. The Bolton center will be linked to an IBM supercomputer in Fishkill, Dutchess County, that can perform 188 trillion operations per second as it tracks a steady stream of data coming in from the sensor network. The center also has its own high­speed computer, and is linked to a third computer at the RPI Technology Park in Troy.

New knowledge will eventually help create solutions to rising threats to the lake stemming from human activity, like the introduction of invasive species carried on boats, build­up of algae fueled by lawn fertilizers or sewage, and saltier water caused by the runoff of road salt. Over the last three decades, salt levels in the lake have nearly tripled and the amount of algae has increased by more than 30 percent. If those numbers continue and lake water clouds, the lake's $1 billion tourism industry and its valuable real estate market could suffer.

“We are going to be able to say Lake George is the most minutely studied lake in the world,” said Lake George Village Mayor Robert Blais. “This is world­class technology .. and it is coming at very little cost to taxpayers around the lake.”

The scientific results — unlike earlier reams of studies on the lake — should be beyond partisan questioning, he added. It will provide a basis for coming up with some initiatives to protect the lake. “And we will know the effect of some of the things that we have been doing,” Blais said.

At the Fund for Lake George offices on Route 9 in the village, Director Eric Siy demonstrated a smaller version of the video display screen used in Darrin. This screen will be used for public presentations on the progress of the project. Blais hopes to be able to link images from the screen to the village's new visitor center.

“This is not science for science's sake,” Siy said. “We are going to be applying what we learn to protect the lake.” Additions were also recently made to the Jefferson Project. Crews used boats to drop in three lake­bottom sensors that will remain, even after the lake is frozen, to record data showing how water is moving.

“These are like police radar guns pointing up from the bottom,” Siy said. The sensors will measure the direction and speed of water currents at varying depths. The data can help researchers learn how pollution or nutrients move through the water. The sensors are in place at The Narrows, in Northwest Bay in Bolton, and several miles to the south at Boon Bay, also in Bolton. After the lake thaws in the spring, researchers will retrieve the units and collect the data.

Relyea's crews also retrieved two floating sensors in place since last summer to avoid damage from a potential ice over. The units will stay at the institute and go back into the water in the spring.Other parts of the Jefferson Project stretch south to the Capital Region. At a lab at RPI's Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations, located in the Rensselaer Technology Park on Route 4, Relyea has created a kind of mini Lake George.

He has set up 900 water tanks, each containing about 300 gallons, to run simulations on lake water. “It is a mesocosm, which means a small version of something very large,” he said. It took four tractor­trailers to bring his tank system to Troy from Pittsburgh, where he ran a university research station on Pymatuning Lake.

And Relyea has roots in the Capital Region. A a native of Clarksville in Albany County, he visited Lake George as a teenager with his family. He has degrees from Hudson Valley Community College, the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and the University of Michigan.

The science that comes out of the Jefferson Project will help the Lake George Park Commission — a state agency responsible for the lake — to make better decisions, said commission Chairman Bruce Young. He lives in Huletts Landing on the lake's northeast shore.

“It helps to have objective information when you are making environmental decisions,” he said. “This is going to be invaluable for us. I can't say enough good things about the Jefferson Project.”

bnearing [at] timesunion.com • 518­454­5094 • @Bnearing10

Read the complete artcle on TimesUnion.com

Lake George By the Numbers
550 billion gallons of water
233 square miles of surrounding land with streams draining into the lake
45 square miles of surface water
32 miles long
1.3 miles wide at widest point
196 feet deep at deepest point
Clouding the waters
During last three decades, water quality is getting worse
Water clarity down 6 percent
Algae counts up 33 percent
Road salt levels in water up 300 percent
8,000 tons of road salt applies to roads around the lake each winter
Sources: State Department of Environmental Conservation, Lake George Association, Fund for Lake George

Related Programs