© 2023
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

"From Physics To Fish": Jefferson Project Maps Lake George

Lake George
Lucas Willard

Researchers on Lake George have just completed the first stage in mapping and understanding one of the region’s most important resources.

On a sunny afternoon on Lake George, I hop aboard the Mintaka, a boat outfitted with high-tech sonar and GPS monitoring equipment that has just finished mapping the entirety of the 32-mile waterway.

In the cabin, lead surveyor Bill Jenkins interprets the sonar image of the lake bottom.

"We can actually map out, as we come up into this grass-bed of some vegetation on the bottom of the lake, you can actually see that map up in here," says Jenkins.

The image fills a blank field. I can pick out the “texture” of the grass below us.

As we move along, Jenkins takes me through a virtual tour of the lakebed, and using the data collected, traces out man-made and geologic structures under the surface.

"So here comes some spring seeps on the bottom," says Jenkins. "You can see the actual rock that it seeps out of."

Jenkins works for a company called Substructure. Substructure began mapping Lake George in October 2013 as part of the Jefferson Project, a collaboration between conservation group the FUND for Lake George, the Rensselaer’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute at Lake George, and IBM Research.   

The three-year, multimillion dollar effort begun last June has just finished putting together the most detailed aerial and underwater mapping of Lake George ever produced.

Substructure president Tom Reise described some of the surprising things he’s discovered down there.

"You have areas that look like a bear claw just scraped across it with the structures that were on the bottom, deep ravines that were carved by wind-driven water currents, springs that are just effervescent coming out of the bottom, we've seen some really neat features that are popping up out of the bottom in the water column that we didn't expect to see," said Reise. "And then of course we're actually able to map four-foot fish, that every once in a while there some monsters down there, that really are down there."

The data can be used and plugged into more applications. Researchers could potentially use the data to place sensors to monitor underwater currents and turbidity.

Reise said the underwater imaging also could help researchers monitor things that could harm the lake’s ecosystem.

“You’ve got septic systems in almost every community here, and a lot of old septic systems," said Reise. "And that nitrogren is in fact getting into the environment. They need to be able to map those plumes that are getting in there, and then the corresponding algae blooms that are resultant from the extra nutrients in the water, and then exactly what the bacteria is doing after the fact, with the zootoplankton and photoplanktons are doing as a result of some of these loadings."

Reise said the ultimate goal is for researchers to conduct “predictive science” on the lake. And that science can be used to direct policy and inform local residents and businesses.

Eric Siy, Executive Director of the FUND for Lake George, said through the Jefferson Project, every dimension of the lake will be understood, as he puts it, “from physics to fish.”

“From that understanding we will be able to make much smarter decisions about how we manage the lake, and how we achieve break-through solutions to some of these problems that threaten the future-health of Lake George as never before," said Siy. "So being able to connect the dots of the science, being able to share with people of diverse interest, whether you're a business, a local official, a homeowner, or conservation group, information is the great equalizer, it's the great mobilizer. This is the ultimate information, this is big data with an even bigger purpose, which is the protection of Lake Geroge."

Reporters aren’t the only group invited aboard the Mintaka. The FUND has also asked local families, lawmakers and members of the business community to get a first-hand look at the research that can assist all sectors in protecting the clear waters of one of the Adirondack’s most precious natural and economic resources.

For more on the Jefferson Project, visit…


Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
Related Content