Researchers will be studying how road salt and excess nutrients impact Lake George using a controlled, in-lake experiment this summer.
It is another facet of The Jefferson Project, the water-quality mapping and monitoring program run by IBM Research, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and The Fund for Lake George.
The groups have set up a dock-like structure in Saw Mill Bay, which will hold thick plastic bags filled with 800 gallons each of Lake George water. There will be 20 bags to conduct 20 different scenarios with differing amounts of salt and nutrients.
When Thomas Jefferson arrived in Lake George more than two centuries ago, he could smell the piney scent of spruce, taste a newly budded straw…
The in-lake experiment is an extension to experiments already happening at the Troy campus, where tubs of Lake George water sit and are tested with invasive species, nutrients, salt, different temperatures and other changes.
The idea is to see how no salt, medium amounts of salt and high amounts of salt impact the water and smaller organisms like phytoplankton and zooplankton, said Rick Relyea, director of the Darrin Freshwater Institute and the Jefferson Project. Following that experiment, another will test how much nutrients it could take to develop a harmful algal bloom on Lake George.
Harmful algal blooms are technically called cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria are naturally occurring in all lakes and water bodies, but scientists are still trying to discover why some turn toxic.
Toxic blooms tend to develop in warm water and on calm, sunny days after the cyanobacteria have fed on nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous.
Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky said Lake George has cyanobacteria, but it has never had a toxic bloom.
As a journalist, the term "harmful algal bloom" is kind of a pain.
“The question is, how many nutrients would it take before we can cause that to happen,” Relyea said. “That tells us something about how far away we are from that happening, and will help us prevent it from happening. We never want it to happen in this lake because harmful algal blooms are a health issue. They’re an economic issue. They hurt tourism.”
The experiment station is in the process of being set up. Relyea said none of the tests will impact Lake George itself, and nothing is being introduced into the lake.
Navitsky added that boaters should be cautious in the Saw Mill Bay area. The experiment is just inside a no-wake zone.
It will be a while before the public is able to learn the results of the experiments, as Relyea said the information will go through a peer-review process to make sure everything was done correctly. He said it will be pretty easy to tell visually, however, the results of the harmful algal bloom experiment.
For Relyea and Navitsky, it’s an exciting development to the study of how things work in Lake George.
“It’s something that we’ve talked about since I started working here in Lake George, about 18 years,” Navitsky said. “It’s a really exciting point to have reached in The Jefferson Project.”