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Research On Lake George HABs Continues

Lake George, NY
Lucas Willard
Lake George

Researchers updated the Lake George Park Commission on their ongoing study of the first harmful algal blooms spotted in the Adirondack lake this fall.

In late October, the Lake George Association identified the first harmful algal bloom in the Queen of American Lakes. In a lake known for its clear waters, the sighting was unusual but also something that officials had been preparing for.

Walt Lender, Executive Director of the LGA, spoke to WAMC in November.

“Lake George has always been and is a low-nutrient lake. So we typically would not expect to see a harmful algal bloom, however, this clearly shows us that we are not immune to harmful algal blooms,” said Lender.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation confirmed two HABs on the lake, though researchers say they have identified five blooms of the naturally-occurring cyanobacteria – some species of which can be toxic to humans and animals.

On Tuesday, the Jefferson Project – a partnership between IBM Research, RPI’s Darrin Freshwater Institute, and the FUND For Lake George – provided an update on its research into the blooms at the Lake George Park Commission’s annual meeting.

Director of the Darrin Freshwater Institute and Jefferson Project Dr. Rick Relyea said researchers are trying to find the answers to two key questions about the blooms.

“Did we just get a perfect storm of conditions to allow this to happen naturally? Or was there some human role to play here?”

A sampling effort is underway, with the Jefferson Project putting 20 people on the lake each day. Water samples are being collected throughout the lake’s southern basin. Surveyors are analyzing water temperature, oxygen levels, turbidity, algal growth, and nutrients.

Preliminary findings show that when the blooms were observed, the lake was still “stratified” – meaning the water column was still separated into thermal layers. Algal growth was in its typical normal range. Nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen were on the upper end of the normal range. The blooms occurred during extraordinarily calm days, as well.

More sampling will continue as the winter “settling stage” of the lake is underway. There are also things to consider like water circulation and weather patterns.

Though there may not be one single identifiable cause of a HAB, Dr. Relyea said decades of research on the lake are being utilized.

“We are really fortunate that we can build on more than 40 years of work at our Darrin Freshwater Institute, more than seven years of the Jefferson Project…all of that baseline data, all of that modeling effort, all of that has been happening over seven years so it’s incredible useful that we have that background,” said Relyea.

An answer won’t come quick – analysis could take months, says Dr. Harry Kolar, Associate Director of the Jefferson Project and IBM Fellow.

“A lot of people sort of came to the call of duty and have really gathered a lot of data which is going to take us months to analyze, but we’re already making progress in this area and we’re very much looking forward to getting back to you on it,” said Kolar.

Also Tuesday, the Lake Park Commission released its 2020 Lake George Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Program report.

In a year where boat traffic increased – and in a shorter boating period due to the pandemic – more than 37,000 boats were received at six boat inspection stations. Of that number, 171 crafts were contaminated with visible invasive plants and animals. More than 11 percent of crafts did not meet the DEC’s “clean, drained, and dry” standard.

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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