Water sensors, tributary monitors and weather stations will soon be put in place under the next phase of the multi-million dollar Jefferson Project whose goal is to protect Lake George from threats such as road salt, invasive species, stormwater pollution and shoreline development.
Nearly 200 officials gathered Friday to dedicate a new data visualization lab where ultra-sophisticated computers will process data allowing researchers to understand the lake’s past and present condition so steps can be taken to improve water quality for future generations to come.
Eventually it’s hoped that this high-tech effort – a collaboration between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM and The Fund for Lake George – can be used to protect fresh water bodies throughout the Adirondacks, New York state and around the globe.
“This is bigger than Lake George,” said John E. Kelly, IBM’s research director and senior vice president. “We want to create a technology that we can bring around the world to preserve one of our most precious resources – that is water.”
The new data lab has been named for Kelly, an RPI alumnus, and his wife, Helen-Jo, who gave a major gift to create an endowed fund to support ongoing research at the new facility, part of RPI’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute in Bolton that opened in the 1980s.
The Jefferson Project, launched in 2013, is named for Thomas Jefferson who described Lake George as the most beautiful body of water he’d ever seen.
For the past year, a Portsmouth, N.H.-based firm used highly-sensitive, boat-mounted sonar to produce a three-dimensional, color underwater map of the lake bottom. A similar aerial approach was done to map the 284 square miles of surrounding watershed.
The first two water sensors, called vertical profilers, have already begun collecting information on things such as water temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen and total algae, and streaming it back to the data lab. Plans calls for having a half-dozen sensors in place before the lake ices up.
“Then in the spring we’ll deploy the rest of them, several dozen,” Kelly said. “This visualization center will pull it all together. It is a true laboratory. We are advancing the computer science and visualization of massive amounts of data.”
The resulting model will let scientists see how Lake George functions – intake and outflow – and circulates, so they know what happens to water, pollution and invasive species that enter the lake. It’s hoped that such information will help policy makers at the local, state and federal level make wise water-quality decisions.
“Scientific research is required to understand and mitigate stresses to the lake,” RPI President Shirley Jackson said.
She announced that Rick Relyea, a world-renowned aquatic ecologist, has been named to project’s first-ever director. He will lead a team of RPI scientists, engineers and researchers as they work with new technology that IBM is developing for the project.
Relyea comes from the University of Pittsburgh, where he spent the past seven years as director of an ecological research center.
Weather, runoff (contaminants, nutrients, sediments), water circulation and the food web are four independent systems that all have an impact on water quality. “We’re going to integrate all four of these together,” Relyea said. “The discoveries we’re making are all global impacts. It’s going to be applied throughout the world.”