IBM, RPI and Fund Announce Partnership to Make Lake George the “Smartest Lake” in the World
World-Class Environmental Laboratory and Monitoring System to be Cornerstone of Joint Collaboration Between RPI, IBM, and the Fund for Lake George
IBM will invest millions of dollars to help create a new, one-of-a-kind research laboratory at RPI’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute to study and help preserve Lake George and the economy that depends upon it, Dr. John E. Kelly III announced on June 27 in Bolton Landing.
Kelly, IBM’s senior vice president and director of research and a resident of Assembly Point, was joined at the Sagamore by RPI president Dr. Shirley Jackson and Jeff Killeen, the chairman of The Fund for Lake George, to unveil a partnership they’ve dubbed “the Jefferson Project.”
Named for Thomas Jefferson, who famously said, “Lake George is, without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw,” the project was created to pinpoint, predict and better manage risks to Lake George’s water quality.
“Using a combination of advanced data analytics, computing and data visualization techniques, new scientific and experimental methods, three-dimensional computer modeling and simulation, as well as historical data, RPI, The Fund and IBM will create a global model for sustained ecosystem understanding and protection,” said Kelly.
“The partnership we are announcing today is unprecedented; it is historic and it will be game changing,” said Jeff Killeen. “The Jefferson Project brings together three very committed partners: RPI, IBM and The Fund for Lake George. It will fuse world class science and research from RPI; world class computational and analytic resources from IBM; and enlightened outreach, education and lake-saving protection and preservation projects from The Fund for Lake George.”
Killeen added, “This combination of resources, brought together and focused on one ecosystem, is something that has never been done before, anywhere.”
According to a press release distributed at the Sagamore, “The Jefferson Project will establish the world’s most sophisticated lake environmental monitoring and prediction system, giving scientists and the community a real-time picture of the health of the lake.”
“This will make Lake George the smartest lake in the world,” said Eric Siy, the executive director of The Fund for Lake George. “We will have access to more and better data about Lake George than we have ever had. We can look into the future with a clearer view than we’ve ever had before. We can use all this to make smart decisions on behalf of Lake George. We can bring big data to the big problems facing the lake.”
“I’m thrilled,” said Dr. Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer, the director of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute. “This is a quantum leap forward.”
IBM: New Research Opportunities
For IBM, the new research facility is an opportunity to bring to together, for the first time, in one place, technologies that can be applied to the study of Lake George, said Mike Fay, a spokesman for IBM.
“We have major water quality projects throughout the world. We’ve used sensors and weather modeling technology around the world, in Rio de Janeiro, in Ireland’s Galway Bay and the Hudson River. What makes Lake George interesting to scientists is that it’s a more pure experiment. There are limited external influences upon it, such as those created by industry or agriculture. Lake George is an ideal body of water to study because of its ecosystem. And it’s an opportunity to create a complete model for a single entity,” said Fay.
“We’re bringing together people with deep backgrounds from diverse areas, and we’re interested in learning how that combined expertise and these technologies can be utilized to attack high value problems,” said Dr. Harry Kolar, one of IBM’s chief engineers.
RPI to Enlarge Darrin Fresh Water Institute
RPI has agreed to build new facilities to support an IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer – the fastest in the world – as well as other hardware, software and equipment to be utilized by RPI faculty and students for applied scientific research.
The expanded campus will include “a new, Smarter Water laboratory and visualization studio,” the press release stated.
In the studio, a monitoring system will give scientists a view of three dimensional circulation models in Lake George, the first ever to be created. Those models will enable scientists to understand how currents distribute nutrients and contaminants around the lake, as well as the relationships between contaminants and particular stressors, such as road de-icing agents.
The models can be overlaid with historical and real-time weather data to provide an even better understanding of the lake, said Eric Siy.
“These big monitors will display what’s happening in real time, in the water, on the land and in the air,” said Siy. “We can see pictures of the current and future computer modeled conditions, water chemistry, and health of the natural systems.”
A floating laboratory known as an aquatic mesocosm to conduct studies in an environment resembling natural conditions will also be built, said Nierzwicki-Bauer.
According to Nierzwicki-Bauer, the new studio will be a two-story building constructed on the footprint of a structure below the existing laboratory.
Global Implications of Lake George Research
According to Jeff Killeen, the Jefferson Project’s partners expect the new scientific facility at Lake George to have global repercussions.
“Our goal is nothing short of creating a model for scientific research, integrated with applied technology, that we believe will represent a new operating model for sustainability that will not only benefit Lake George, but every other critical resource,” said Killeen.
For instance, “creating circulation models is extremely difficult, but once it’s done, you can build upon that,” said Mike Fay.
In fact, virtually everything from the facility will have global uses, said Fay.
“Although we’re focusing on Lake George, we’re creating a global model for sustained ecosystem understanding and protection,” said Fay. “That’s because we’re using an unprecedented array of new tools for scientific research; fusing monitoring, modeling, simulation, forecasting and experimentation. The ecological and market benefits will be widely felt.”
Jeff Killeen noted, “IBM now sees Lake George as another node in its Smarter Planet project, and what we do here will be connected to those other nodes. Our local efforts will have global credibility.”
Moreover, the Darrin Fresh Water Institute itself will become “a global destination for pioneering research, attracting top scientists from around the world to Lake George. They can use our tools to run their data,” said Killeen.
Fund: Better Science Will Lead to Better Informed Policies
According to Eric Siy, Lake George is the ideal focus for the research interests of IBM and RPI in part because of the amount of data about the lake that has already been collected.
“One of the sources of the Jefferson Project is the Darrin Fresh Water Institute’s water quality monitoring program. The Fund has invested more than $2 million since 1980 in the program, which has produced one of the most comprehensive data bases for a fresh water lake anywhere,” said Siy.
“As we prepared to publish the data, we developed a Legacy Strategy, which will look backward through the data and produce a blueprint for the future.
“The data tells us that the lake is in trouble. Water quality is slowly, steadily declining. We see rising levels of chlorophyll that threaten water clarity and a three-fold increase in salt levels, due largely to road salt.
“With the Jefferson Project, we can pair this comprehensive scientific database of lake conditions with new sensor acquired data, advanced analytics, computing, and data visualization technologies.
“So we are now in a better position than ever to understand the problems,” said Siy.
But, he added, “We are also in a better position than ever to create solutions. The new technologies will help us determine which remediation strategies will be most effective.”
In addition to committing itself to raising millions to support scientific research, The Fund for Lake George will also raise money for science-based projects and programs that will not only reduce threats to the lake but reverse the trends that have caused water quality to deteriorate, said Siy.
“This is our Legacy Strategy. Its goal is to ensure that the wonder of Lake George will live on,” he said.
Investments will fund a range of projects, from underwriting the costs of combating invasive species to upgrading the Lake George Waste Water Treatment Plant, said Siy.
“We’ll pick the most vital, remedial projects and move forward,” he said.
A source of pollution such as road salt, for example “is a big problem, but it may also be one of the easiest to solve,” he said.
Economic Implications for Lake George of New Research Lab
According to Jeff Killeen, a global reputation for Lake George as not only a clean lake, but one that’s getting cleaner, cannot help but have economic impacts for the region.
“Protecting Lake George as a unique natural resource doesn’t just make good sense from an environmental perspective, but it is also an imperative from an economic perspective. Lake George is without question a one-of-a kind eco-asset. It is that very pristine character of the lake that is the driver of $450 million of tourism here in Warren County and upwards of a billion dollars of economic impact in the surrounding region,” said Killeen
But Harry Kolar noted that the new lab will have direct economic benefits as well, including jobs created by architecture and design needs, new construction and the installation of sensors.
Moreover, Kolar said, Lake George will become “a center of gravity” for developing technologies, attracting not only researchers, but interest from small and medium sized companies.
The size of the staff and faculty working full-time at the Fresh Water Institute is also expected to increase by as many as ten people.
“We expect the new facility to be a very fluid environment, with IBM staff spending time there and Fresh Water Institute faculty and students making use of RPI’s facilities in Troy as well as IBM’s own research facilities,” said Kolar.
“All the economic impacts are difficult to forecast,” said Jeff Killeen. “But we do know this; for the first time techies will be able to live and work in the Adirondacks. Tech Valley truly is moving north.”