World’s Smartest Lake Getting Smarter

Lake George Mirror

At the September 24th Lake George Park Commission meeting in Bolton Landing, Dr. Rick Relyea, director of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute and the Jefferson Project, said their goal is to make Lake George the smartest lake in the world.

We want to take this information to other places in New York State and around the world, to help people make informed decisions,” he said. “We are not policymakers or advocates. We will help policy makers understand the consequences of their decisions.”

Relyea’s 30-minute PowerPoint presentation included information about the collaboration between RPI, IBM and The Fund for Lake George regarding monitoring, experimentation and computer modeling. “Each of us have our own particular entities but we have a commonality of protecting fresh water. And that’s what really drives us. We have a world-class research facility right here on Lake George and we’ll be working on other lakes as well without taking anything away from Lake George.”

Think about this,” he continued, “we monitor the lake to see how it’s behaving. We do experiments to determine why it is behaving the way it is. And, we do computer monitoring to forecast what’s going to happen next.”

Relyea displayed a map of the sensor locations currently in use on the lake. “Lake George is the most sensored lake in the world,” he said. Relyea said there are four types of sensors: weather stations, stream monitors, underwater current profiling and vertical profilers. “The vertical profilers, which we started using in 2014, are the ones you probably have seen the most,” he said.

Those are the yellow 12-foot pontoon boats. They have sensors that detect the water quality from the surface all the way to the bottom. These are really smart sensors,” he said. “They can make decisions on their own. There are a bunch of different sensors on those platforms talking to each other and making intelligent decisions. They’re part of what we call IOT, Intelligent Order of Things. Those sensors send back 500 million data points about Lake George” he said.

Relyea said they also monitor invasive species four times a year. “We try to understand what facilitates the introduction of an invasive and what helps it to do well and prosper. We don’t know, for example, what impact they will have on water quality down the road,” he said.

Relyea said they also use artificial intelligence to predict areas in which an invasive may locate.

Relyea said they are also monitoring salt pollution in the lake, as well. “Salt pollution is quite an issue around this lake, and for good reason. The amount of salt in the lake has tripled since 1980 … it’s important to say it’s tripled in a very small amount … it was about five milligrams of chloride, now it’s about 16 or 18,” he said. Relyea said during a snow or ice event some of the streams leading into the lake record 2,000 milligrams for a 12- or 24-hour time period.

In terms of what salt does to ecosystems, five years ago the world knew almost nothing,” he said. “Here was something that was right in front of our faces but were doing nothing about it globally,” he said. “You could probably count on two hands the amount of research that was being done on the effects of salt. The Jefferson Project is now a leader of understanding what salt does to an ecosystem. Our research is now being studied world-wide.”

Relyea said excess nutrients are causing harmful algal blooms around the world. Relyea said nutrients entering Lake George have increased floating algae by about 30 percent over the past 40 years. “The lake’s transparency has not changed, which is good news,” he said. “The amount of floating algae in Lake George is low compared to other lakes.”

Relyea said a study took place in July and August where about 50 lakeshore residents agreed to hang a simple clay tile off their docks. A variety of aquatic things grew on those tiles including sediment, fungi, bacteria and algae. “The July results showed that Mohican Point (in Bolton Landing) had 10 times more (algae) than the lake-wide average. In August it was about 30 times higher,” he said.

Relyea added that where a “hot-spot” is discovered might not necessarily be the source. According to Relyea, harmful algal blooms are in all bodies of water but they need nutrients to grow.

Relyea said they are working on putting a data dashboard online by the end of September. There the public will be able to see long-term trends, high resolution weather forecasts and live lake-sensor data. “We will be issuing a press release soon,” he said.

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