The Jefferson Project

by Michael Mullaney on June 28, 2013

All hands on deck! It’s Rensselaer biology professor Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer, with partners Harry Kolar (right) from IBM and Eric Siy (left) from the FUND for Lake George. They were on the water yesterday celebrating the launch of the Jefferson Project, an exciting new research effort to turn Lake George into the world’s biggest and most scrutinized freshwater lab experiment.

(What you don’t see in this photo is me and some of my colleagues, in a second boat, about 20 feet off in the distance.)

You can read all about the Jefferson Project here, and check out some news stories about it here, here, and here.

Also, below is part of a great blog post written by Sandra and Eric for the IBM Smarter Planet blog. See the full post here.

The Jefferson Project at Lake George, being launched today in Upstate New York, is the culmination of a generation’s work to understand the lake’s changing water quality and what it will take to protect it for the next generation.

The project will advance the “Legacy Strategy” of The FUND for Lake Gorge, a science-based advocacy group founded in 1980. The Strategy was adopted last fall to stop documented declines in water quality as revealed by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Margaret A. and David M. Darrin ’40 Fresh Water Institute (DFWI).

The Strategy positions the state of the lake – the scientific foundation for lake-wide understanding of water quality trends and their influences– with the fate of the lake – the look ahead at what the future will be if present trends continue (the “status quo scenario”) and what it could be if trends were curbed or reversed (the “solution scenario”).

The 30-year water quality data collected by Rensselaer faculty and students at DFWI and underwritten by the FUND will be used as a springboard for the Jefferson Project at Lake George. Additionally, groundbreaking work on the management and study of invasive species in Lake George positions us for the protection of the lake from biological stressors. This work and research has included SCUBA removal of zebra mussels as a unique eradication strategy, and development of hydroacoustic technology to rapidly identify Eurasian Watermilfoil beds.

Initial studies including small-scale mesocosm experiments to better understand and forecast the potential impact of a variety of chemical and nutrient inputs into the lake has driven Project inclusion of a state-of-the art mesocosm facility to be established in Lake George. Real-time, in situ sensing instrumentation including autonomous underwater vehicles will contribute to making Lake George the “Smartest Lake” in the world.

The FUND’s Legacy Strategy as described in The Need for a Legacy Strategy to Safeguard Lake George is dedicated to creating a “solution scenario.” In making the case, the Strategy calls for “a fusion of environmental and economic imperatives to produce the transforming energy, coherent purpose, and broad resolve required for enduring success.”

This is precisely what the Jefferson Project will now make possible. According to the project mandate, “an unprecedented array of new tools for applied scientific research will fuse monitoring, modeling, simulation, forecasting, and experimentation to inform and compel decision-making that leads to lasting protection of Lake George.”

It was, in fact, the Legacy Strategy, driven by the troubling trends of Darrin’s research that catalyzed creation of the extraordinary endeavor being launched here today. The pace and scale of progress already made is testament to the passionate leadership and partnership Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson and Dr. John Kelly at IBM.

The declared purpose of the Project is to become the “global model for sustained ecosystem understanding and protection” is befitting complement to Thomas Jefferson’s declaration of Lake George as “without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw.”

Jefferson’s words provide both inspiration and destination for this project.

Empowered science will provide new predictive capacities for integrated understanding and forecasting. This, in turn, will empower our ability to make “smart decisions” that reverse negative trends and restore Lake George to a pristine state very much resembling the lake that so moved Jefferson. This is, quite literally, history in the making.