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Jefferson Project Opens New Research Lab On Lake George

Lucas Willard

A partnership between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM Research, and the FUND for Lake George today celebrated the opening of a new laboratory that will be used to visualize the most advanced mapping project on the Adirondack lake.

Partners with the Jefferson Project unveiled the new data visualization laboratory at RPI’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute in Bolton Landing.

The 2,000-square foot facility will use two supercomputers to process and visualize sophisticated models on how weather, runoff, and water circulation affect the lake.

Shirley Ann Jackson, president of RPI, spoke on the shore of Lake George to mark the progress of the project launched three years ago.

“The Queen of American Lakes offers one simple experience to everyone who gazes on it, and that is a sense of the sublime. However, to preserve the lake and its clarity for generations to come, we cannot take a simple view.”

Over the summer, boats using high-tech sonar equipment traveled 9,000 miles back and forth across the 32-mile waterway, mapping the lake’s bottom. Planes flew overhead to mark the topopgraphy of the surrounding watershed.

Sensors placed throughout the lake will continue to monitor temperature, oxygen levels, lake currents, and other factors.

The new data center was named for Dr. John E Kelly III, senior vice president and director of IBM Research, and a Rensselaer trustee, and his wife, Helen-Jo. A gift from the Kellys will create an endowed fund to support research at the lake. Dr. Kelly….

“I think that this visualization center, quite simply put, is a digital window into this beautiful lake. We will see topography, processes, and parts of this lake that no human has ever seen before. It will also allow us to look back at the origin of the lake and how pristine it was before man settled, and will allow us to look into the future and model developments and impacts of not only human behavior, but things such as invasive species.”

Jeff Killeen, board chairman of the FUND for Lake George, said his organization will translate the science of the Jefferson Project and bring forward solutions to policymakers and others.

“Solutions we expect will include things like options for smarter road salt management, for the eradication of invasive species, for thoughtful low-impact development, for stormwater management, and for other stressors that affect the water quality of Lake George.”

Aquatic ecologist Dr. Rick Relyea, who will serve as the director of the Jefferson Project for RPI, said only 1 percent of the water on earth is drinkable, and most of the available freshwater is used for agriculture and industry.

“We have lots of competition for fresh water, we have wars around the world for fresh water. It’s a critical resource that we understand how to take care of it.”

Relyea said the discoveries made through the Jefferson Project will have global impacts.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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