Making Lake George “Smarter”

August 07, 2013 at 3:39 pm

NYNow‘s Matt Ryan takes us upstate to The Jefferson Project at Lake George, a collaboration between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), IBM and The Fund for Lake George that aims to better understand the biggest threats to Lake George’s pristine water quality by transforming the body of water into the world’s “smartest.”

The project is named after President Thomas Jefferson who, in 1791, wrote in a letter to his daughter, “Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw.” While Lake George’s beauty is intact, drawing in over $1 billion in tourism funds for the region, it’s AA-Special classification as drinkable water, the highest given by New York State, is threatened by several stressors.

According to statistics released by the project, the lake’s salt content nearly tripled between 1980 and 2009, increasing from 5.9 parts per million to 15.7 parts per million. Chlorophyll levels caused by algae growth have increased by 50 percent in the last 30 years and five invasive species, including the aggressive zebra mussel, have had adverse effects on their new habitat.

“There are accumulating pressures on the lake,” said Eric Siy, Executive Director of The FUND for Lake George, “from road salt to nutrient loading from a variety of sources and storm water runoff and invasive species and it’s adding up. It’s having a multiplier effect on the water quality of Lake George and those conditions that people come here to enjoy and that residents depend on for drinking water.”

IBM will provide a supercomputer–capable of performing 188 trillion operations per second–software, and other hardware for the new Smarter Water laboratory at RPI’s Darrin Freshwater Institute, the home base of the project.

Forty sensing platforms will monitor 25 variables in real time, including water chemistry, weather and stream flow. Researchers will use the data to build better circulation models for Lake George that show how nutrients and contaminants are moving around the lake.

“Lake George has a lot to teach us, if we look closely,” said Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson in a statement. “By expanding Rensselaer’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute with this remarkable new cyberphysical platform of data from sensors and other sources, and with advanced analytics, high performance computing, and web science, we are taking an important step to protect the timeless beauty of Lake George, and we are creating a global model for environmental research and protection of water resources.”

Besides providing crucial information to improve Lake George’s impaired ecosystem, and many like it around the world, leaders of the project tout it will also boost the region’s economy.

“By shining the light of science on the future of Lake George, this bold collaboration will empower our ability to succeed,” said Jeffrey M. Killeen, board chairman of The Fund for Lake George, in a statement.

The Jefferson Project at Lake George will last for three years and cost several million dollars.