Another Successful Year for The Jefferson Project at LG; Exciting New Lake Protection Initiatives Still Ahead

As 2018 winds down, and people begin looking ahead to a new year, scientists with The Jefferson Project at Lake George are looking much farther into the future — with a goal of ensuring that the lake loved by so many today will be similarly enjoyed for generations to come.

Established in 2013, this groundbreaking collaboration bet- ween IBM Research, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and The FUND for Lake George has been steadily assembling the world’s most advanced environmental monitoring system.

The system is centered around a network of more than 50 sophisticated monitoring platforms and more than 500 individual “Smart Sensors” positioned throughout the entire 32-mile lake and surrounding watershed. These sensors monitor the weather, the streams that feed the lake, the water conditions from the lake surface to the lake bottom, and the circulation patterns of the water. The data collected is providing an unprecedented depth of information about the lake’s physical, chemical and biological health, and helping its partners develop science- guided solutions to the three most significant threats to the long-term ecological and economic health of the lake: road salt, invasive species and excess nutrients from a variety of sources, including faulty septic systems and wastewater treatment plants.

This past year brought a number of important advancements in The Jefferson Project’s activities, each of which has helped to maintain and strengthen Lake George’s place as “The Smartest Lake in the World:”

  • Researchers expanded their multi-year food web research to include a survey of the types of attached algae present around the lake shoreline. With tremendous support from lake residents, 27 sites were surveyed four times throughout the summer and fall to determine the species of algae that were present and identify the particular stressors, such as nutrient and salt levels, that are contributing to their growth;
  • The Jefferson Project continued its work on developing a next- generation, low-cost phosphorus sensor. Phosphorus, a common constituent of fertilizers and organic waste from septic systems and wastewater treatment plants, is the biggest factor in giving lakes a green, non-transparent appearance. Existing phosphorus sensors are very expensive, making their use cost-prohibitive.

  • The lake-wide water quality sampling program, started by Rensselaer’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute in Bolton Landing, continued under The Jefferson Project’s auspices for the 39th consecutive year, making it one of the longest-running water-quality surveys in the country;

  • The Jefferson Project also expanded its public awareness and education efforts about the importance of preserving fresh water quality with the installation of “The World of Plankton,” a virtual touch-pool aquarium at the ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. Developed by RPI students, the giant digital touch table allows visitors to explore the role of plankton and fish in lakes, and the importance of protecting freshwater for years to come. More than 160,000 people visit the Center each year, making the exhibit a tremendous vehicle for spreading the word about The Jefferson Project’s work.

LOOKING AHEAD

A major component of The Jefferson Project’s success to date has been the development by IBM of a suite of computer models. These models provide researchers with unprecedented capabilities in weather forecasting, depicting the complex interplay of the land around the lake with the atmosphere, and demonstrating how salt and other contaminants move within the watershed.

Now, as the calendar turns to 2019, The Jefferson Project is preparing to take an even greater step in predicting how human activities and lake-protection efforts will affect the lake going forward — through a next-generation technology known as a “Scenario Engine.” This powerful new tool, under development by IBM, will draw on data from the lake’s smart sensor network, long-term surveys of water chemistry and food webs, years of scientific experiments, and computer models to predict future changes in water quality given various “What If?” scenarios. These scenarios will inform new activities to keep Lake George clear and clean.

And that’s not all The Jefferson Project has in store. Moving ahead:

  • New advancements in salt monitoring in the lake, its tributaries, 

    along roadsides and on local plow trucks will continue to reduce the amount of harmful road salt applied each winter while keeping area roads safe for residents and visitors:

    This past year brought a number of important advancements in The Jefferson Project’s activities, each of which has helped to maintain and strengthen Lake George’s place as “The Smartest Lake in the World:”

    • The lake-wide water quality sampling program, started by Rensselaer’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute in Bolton Landing, continued under The Jefferson Project’s auspices for the 39th consecutive year, making it one of the longest-running water-quality surveys in the country;

    2019, The Jefferson Project is preparing to take an even greater step in predicting how human activities and lake-protection efforts will affect the lake going forward — through a next-generation technology known as a “Scenario Engine.” This powerful new tool, under development by IBM, will draw on data from the lake’s smart sensor network, long-term surveys of water chemistry and food webs, years of scientific experiments, and computer models to predict future changes in water quality given various “What If?” scenarios. These scenarios will inform new activities to keep Lake George clear and clean.

    The Jefferson Project is an innovative partnership between scientists from IBM and RPI who are designing world-leading monitoring and research technology and implementing sophisticated scientific experiments, and The FUND for Lake George, which is harnessing the power of this research and data to realize the ultimate purpose of the Project — informing effective protection of Lake George for generations to come and making this bold endeavor the global model for other communities to follow.

    • Researchers expanded their multi-year food web research to include a survey of the types of attached algae present around the

    • The Jefferson Project also expanded its public awareness and education efforts about the importance of preserving fresh water quality with the installation of “The World of Plankton,” a virtual touch-pool aquarium at the ECHO,

    And that’s not all The Jefferson Project has in store. Moving ahead:

    • New advancements in salt monitoring in the lake, its tributaries, along roadsides and on local plow trucks will continue to reduce the amount of harmful road salt applied each winter while keeping area roads safe for residents and visitors;

    • Artificial Intelligence tech- niques will be used to identify the habitat variables that lend themselves to invasive species colonies, and provide guidance in developing better monitoring and more effective controls;

    • This year’s algae survey will continue and expand, as The Jefferson Project seeks property owners around the lake who would like to have small algae samplers attached to their docks or other structures to aid in this important research effort;

  • A large floating laboratory will be placed outside the Darrin Institute in Bolton Landing for an exciting new series of real-world experiments. Large plastic bags, filled with natural lake water, will be extended into the lake through holes in the dock, creating a “test tube” of sorts that will allow researchers to observe how the lake responds to different stressors that are manipulated within each bag under more realistic lake conditions rather than in a laboratory; and

  • More advanced computer modeling will help us better understand and predict how changes in nutrient levels in the lake will lead to changes in algae formation and species composition — an extremely important tool as the public- and private sectors continue their collaborative efforts to upgrade wastewater treatment and septic systems and control storm water runoff.

The Jefferson Project is an innovative partnership between scientists from IBM and RPI who are designing world-leading monitoring and research technology and implementing sophisticated scientific experiments, and The FUND for Lake George, which is harnessing the power of this research and data to realize the ultimate purpose of the Project — informing effective protection of Lake George for generations to come and making this bold endeavor the global model for other communities to follow.

To learn more, visit  jeffersonproject.rpi.edu or fundforlakegeorge.org.

This guest essay was submitted by: Rick Relyea, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Director, Jefferson Project, Harry Kolar, IBM Research; Associate Director, Jefferson Project, and Eric Siy, The FUND for Lake George; Associate Director, Jefferson Project. It originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of the Lake George Mirror.

 

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