The Jefferson Project: Creating the World’s Smartest Lake
Rensselaer, IBM, and the FUND for Lake George in June announced the launch of “The Jefferson Project at Lake George,” a three-year, multimillion-dollar collaboration with the goal of understanding and managing complex factors—including road salt, storm water runoff, and invasive species—threatening one of the world’s most pristine natural ecosystems and an economic cornerstone of the New York tourism industry. The collaboration partners expect that this world-class scientific and technology facility at Lake George will create a new model for predictive preservation and remediation of critical natural systems on Lake George, in New York, and ultimately around the world.
The Jefferson Project, an homage to President Thomas Jefferson’s declaration of Lake George as “without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw,” aims to establish one of the world’s most sophisticated lake environmental monitoring and prediction systems, giving scientists and the community a real-time picture of the health of the lake. Lake George is an ideal body of water to study due to its size and unique ecosystem. Approximately 95 percent of the land surrounding Lake George remains as natural forestland, 46 percent of which is “forever wild” state-owned forest preserve.
Scientists from Rensselaer have been studying the lake for 30 years and have noted the emergence of environmental stressors that include rising levels of chlorophyll that threatens water clarity and a threefold increase in salt levels primarily due to road salt applied to roads in the watershed. Lake George tourism alone accounts for an estimated $450 million of economic activity in Warren County and approximately $1 billion in the surrounding region.
The collaboration partners plan to use a combination of advanced data analytics, computing and data visualization techniques, new scientific and experimental methods, 3-D computer modeling and simulation, and historical data, expecting to gain an unprecedented scientific understanding of Lake George. The combination of these unique predictive capabilities will enable scientists and the community to prioritize and act before permanent degradation can take place.
For example, the new monitoring system is expected to give scientists a view for the first time of circulation models in Lake George. These 3-D models could then be used to understand how currents distribute nutrients and contaminants across the 32-mile lake and their correlation to specific stressors.
IBM plans to provide hardware, software, and supporting services to help create a new Smarter Water laboratory and visualization studio at Rensselaer’s Margaret A. and David M. Darrin Fresh Water Institute on Lake George. A team of IBM Smarter Water experts, in partnership with Rensselaer and the FUND for Lake George, plan to pair their expertise with this new technology to help local leaders see a real-time picture of the current and future computer modeled conditions, water chemistry, and health of the natural systems.
“Lake George has a lot to teach us, if we look closely,” said President Shirley Ann Jackson at the announcement. “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.”
For more information on the Jefferson Project at Lake George, visit www.rpi.edu/dept/DFWI/.