The Jefferson Project at Lake George, a multi-million dollar collaboration between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM, and The FUND for Lake George, is expected to better our understanding of, and help provide solutions to, the threats to Lake George water quality.
Priority concerns include road salt, storm water runoff, and invasive species. This three year study, already underway, will build a model for balancing economic growth and environmental protection.
The data collected from the Jefferson Project will help to better understand how runoff, nutrients, invasive species and pollutants move through the lake and interact. Utilizing stream gauges, self-propelled underwater robots, weather stations, Doppler units, planes, boats and sensors anchored to buoys, data will be collected on stream runoff, rainfall, wind, currents, salinity, chlorophyll and nitrogen. The technology developed will establish the world’s most sophisticated lake environmental monitoring and prediction system. Better science will lead to better understanding and more informed policies and decisions.
Data collected for the Jefferson Project will be combined with results from RPI’s 30 year study of Lake George. This compilation of data will be crunched by the IBM Blue Gene supercomputer to create three dimensional model of the lake, past, present and future. This will allow scientists to see real-time data and predict future threats and trends.
The Jefferson Project could not come at a more pivotal time. Lake George water quality is slowly and steadily declining. The major causes of this are the rising levels of chlorophyll, the increase in littoral benthic algae blooms, and a three-fold increase in salt levels, due largely to road salt. The road salts are already changing the lake’s food web by shifting species composition of algae from primarily diatoms and green algae to blue-green (cyanobacteria). This shift in species, may produce toxic conditions, alter pH levels and lower the dissolved oxygen levels, thereby causing fish kills.
Protecting Lake George is important not only from an environmental standpoint, but from an economic one as well. The lake is responsible for about one billion dollars in tourism activity in the surrounding region. Many shoreline homeowners still get their drinking water from the lake unfiltered. Groups of concerned citizens, through Water Quality Awareness Committees, are already working on initiatives to reduce and stop the detrimental water quality trends.
Photo: IBM Research Scientist Harry Kolar (right), Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer of the RPI Darrin Fresh Water Institute (center) and Eric Siy from The FUND to Save Lake George scout locations for new sensors last summer.