This year, researchers will have a more complete understanding of Lake George than ever before.
The remaining 21 sensor platforms that have yet to be deployed as part of The Jefferson Project at Lake George are scheduled to take their places in and around the lake by the end of this year. So far, 20 have been deployed, mostly in the southern basin and the Narrows. This year, data-collecting and transmitting sensors will be deployed in and around the northern end of the lake.
The sensor network, made of four types of sensor platforms, collects massive amounts of information from the lake, its tributaries and wetlands, and sends data to supercomputers for analyses.
“We’ll try to complete that picture. We have about half the picture now,” said Jefferson Project Director Rick Relyea.
The three partners in the project are Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM Research and the Fund for Lake George.
This month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $500,000 grant award for RPI — the first public grant for the project — through the Higher Education Capital Matching Grant Program to help complete the $2 million sensor network.
“This grant really helps move the project forward substantially. It helps us purchase the remaining sensors we want to put out in 2016. Because of that, we’re incredibly thankful to the governor and local legislators for seeing the importance of investing in this project and Lake George,” Relyea said.
The grant requires a three-to-one match, so the three partner organizations pledged $1.5 million.
“It really goes to why this matters and how this investment in understanding the lake will make a big difference in whether we succeed in protecting Lake George for the next generation. We are forging a world-class model for understanding and protecting a world-class natural treasure. This is a historic step in pursuit of lasting protection of Lake George,” said Eric Siy, executive director of Fund for Lake George. “Nothing like this has ever been done before where we are using research, technology and strategic advocacy to show the way to lasting protection to equip and empower.”
Relyea said they are hoping to host another open house for the public this summer. One such event last year at the Darrin Fresh Water Institute in which the public could talk to the scientists working on the project was well attended.
“We have come a tremendously long way in a few years, but all of us know there is a great deal of excitement in the future. We are currently writing up quite a few papers from the data for scientific journals, and when we publish those, we’ll also be telling the public what we discovered. We want to go through the scientific peer review process to make sure we have the right answer,” Relyea said.
One of the elements scientists are working on this year is a food web model that will provide insight into how factors effect the lake’s ecosystem. Four computer models using new data visualization technology have already been created to understand water circulation, salt, run-off into the lake and weather. The food web model will complete the picture.
“This year, we’ll start understanding a model of the food web. Now that we understand who is there, and at what abundance — which species are really abundant and where they are abundant — now we can start answering questions related to those species,” Relyea said.
Scientists are also going to conduct several new experiments this year that will help them understand why the lake behaves the way it does and pinpoint risks and predict future outcomes associated with threats to the lake’s condition.
“The experiments are really key to understanding what the sensors tell us,” Relyea said.
For example, data has shown increased algae and salt content in the lake over recent decades, plus there are five invasive species. In experiments, scientists can manipulate different variables to provide insight on why something is happening and what could happen in the future.
“With all those things happening at the same time, it’s hard to say what is causing changes in the lake,” Relyea said. “In experiments, we can separate those things.”
The project includes monitoring through both the sensors and scientists collecting samples from the field, such as fish species. Then the experiments and the data from monitoring are brought together with the computer models.
“A lot of what we’re working on is continuing to get more sensors out and continuing with more experiments and updating and perfecting computer models,” Relyea said. “Now you have data coming in to help validate how the water is flowing, how is it moving in the lake. We’ve got data to help validate those models and make them closer to the truth.”
The project has about 60 people working on it including from RPI, IBM Research and the Fund.
“It does cut across the entire institute. It’s not just biologists, it’s computer scientists and artists,” Relyea said. “That’s by design,”
For example, the art department helped develop a game in which people can dive into Lake George and see it from the vantage point of microscopic plankton.
“We hope to have that as part of the open house,” he said.