Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Making Lake George the Smartest Lake in the World

2013-0627-lakegeorgeThe 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.

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Corrina Parnapy, an Adirondack native  transplanted to Vermont with her husband and son, is the District Manager for the largest Natural Resources Conservation District in the State of Vermont.  She is the lead Aquatic Biologist/ Phycologist for Avacal Biological, and writes about the natural world for the Adirondack Almanack and other Northeast publications.

2 Responses

  1. Bill Quinlivan says:

    I guess it is better late than never, but in the case of Lake George, it is a bit like trying to close the barn door while the herd has half left the barn. Lake George and Old Forge are the prototype of what we do not want the Central ADK to turn into.

  2. Corrina Parnapy says:

    In all actuality, this study is taking place at the most pivotal moment. The lake can still remain clear and clean. By understanding the changes that are taking place in the water quality, something can be done. We already know that road salt is a entering the lake and has tripled the salinity level causing changes in the ecosystem. Solution: Speak up and tell your town/ governmental officials to use an alternative. We know that excessive nutrients are feeding algae and aquatic plants, hindering recreation. Solution: Ban or restrict fertilizer and pesticide use. Native grasses and plants don’t need fertilizers to remain lush and green. Plant a buffer along the shoreline of the lake to stop nutrients from flowing directly in. To turn the Lake back from the brink, individuals just need to use their voice. Speak out at town and governmental meetings, join a Water Quality Awareness Committee, participate in activities and projects that save the lake and water quality, read my articles and become informed. Every voice counts!!

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