Taking the Jefferson Project on the Road to Other Fresh Water Bodies

This article originally appeared in Lake George Mirror.

The Jefferson Project has launched a pilot program on Skaneateles Lake to help researchers there better understand the causes of the Harmful Algal Blooms that have threatened its water quality.

Earlier this summer, researchers from IBM and RPI transferred some of the Project’s advanced sensor technology to the western New York lake - the first time since the custombuilt sensors were launched on Lake George that some have been placed in another water body to perform similar monitoring functions, said Kelly.

According to Venetia Lannon, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s advisor on environmental issues, the Harmful Algal Blooms that emerged in Skaneateles Lake last summer triggered “clear alarm bells” among members of Governor Cuomo’s administration and became the catalyst for a $65 million initiative to combat Harmful Algal Blooms in twelve upstate New York lakes, Skaneateles Lake and Lake George among them.

Lake George is, in fact, unique among the twelve lakes because Harmful Algae Blooms have yet to surface here, said Eric Siy, executive director of The FUND for Lake George, one of the Jefferson Project’s three partners.

Lake George is viewed by the state as the example that other water bodies should emulate. That’s cause for celebration, but also cause for concern, because Harmful Algal Blooms could erupt at anytime, anywhere,” said Siy. The Jefferson Project, the collaborative effort to use technology to analyze, understand and protect Lake George, is an especially valuable contribution to the state’s water bodies, said Lannon.

We all learn from the Jefferson Project,” said Lannon.

Lake George is considered ‘a control lake.’ The research that the Jefferson Project is conducting on Lake George offers a range of actions and insights that other lakes can use to help predict and prevent Harmful Algal Blooms,” said Eric Siy.

The Jefferson Project’s network of sensors, which offer detailed views of the lake’s changing conditions, provide “a capability we can transfer to other fresh water lakes,” said IBM’s Dr. Harry Kolar, the Project’s associate director.

Once the sensors are programed, the data collected from Skaneateles Lake will be analyzed by scientists sitting in the Jefferson Project’s visualization lab at the Darrin Fresh Water Institute in Bolton Landing, said Mike Kelly, an IBM engineer.

That data will support computer modeling and forecasting, said Harry Kolar.

The sensor network is just one piece. Another piece is computer modeling. It’s one thing to identify a Harmful Algal Bloom, it’s another thing to understand the conditions that led to it. That’s complex. But we can take a lake and show how it will react to nutrients over time and across temperatures in order to understand how Harmful Algal Blooms might originate,” said Kolar.

According to Eric Siy, the Jefferson Project’s sensors were in place before algal blooms emerged on Skaneateles Lake earlier this month, providing researchers with opportunities to view the lake before, during and after the eruptions.

Dr. John Kelly, the Director of IBM Research, noted at The FUND for Lake George’s annual meeting on July 7 that the Jefferson Project’s mission was to both maintain a facility in Bolton Landing to study and protect Lake George “into perpetuity,” while, at the same time, “globalizing” the technology developed here.

Exporting the technology to Skaneateles Lake is a step in the direction of globalization, said Kelly.

According to the Skaneateles Lake Association, the Jefferson Project’s principals hope to bring a full network of sensors to that lake to help that community learn how to mitigate the impacts of human activity on water quality.

The Skaneateles Lake Association is indebted to the Jefferson Project for this generous sharing of technology, modeling and personnel,” the SLA stated.

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