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Scientists to examine health of Lake George in high-tech project

Describing a groundbreaking multi-million-dollar, three-year scientific study of Lake George to be undertaken soon is IBM Research Senior Vice President John Kelly III, flanked by (left): Fund for Lake George Executive Director Eric Siy and (right): Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson. RPI, IBM and The Fund are partners in the product that involves collecting massive amounts of data on lake currents, organisms and pollutants — and relaying it to supercomputers for real-time analysis to forecast the lake’s future health.

Describing a groundbreaking multi-million-dollar, three-year scientific study of Lake George to be undertaken soon is IBM Research Senior Vice President John Kelly III, flanked by (left): Fund for Lake George Executive Director Eric Siy and (right): Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson. RPI, IBM and The Fund are partners in the product that involves collecting massive amounts of data on lake currents, organisms and pollutants — and relaying it to supercomputers for real-time analysis to forecast the lake’s future health. Photo by Thom Randall.

— A scientific study of unparalleled scope — utilizing world-class technology — is about to be undertaken to assess environmental threats to Lake George.

The three-year, multi-million-dollar research project was announced June 27 at the Sagamore Hotel in Bolton Landing by representatives of the three entities collaborating on the effort: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM and the Fund for Lake George.

The project involves placing sensors —both fixed and robotic — around the lake that will measure water currents, pollutant levels, deposition of sediments, presence of micro-organisms, weather changes, and water chemistry. The data will then be transmitted around the clock to supercomputers that will analyze the data in real time to track and analyze the lake’s health — and predict its future, RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson said.

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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Jackson points to a photo of the Darrin Freshwater Institute on Lake George, where a researchers will be stationed in an upcoming scientific study of Lake George’s health that is unprecedented in scope and technology. Jackson, a renowned physicist, serves as co-chairman of Barack Obama’s Innovation & Technology Advisory Committee.

“This project will give scientists the capability to understand the future of the lake under different scenarios,” she said.

While scientists from RPI’s Darrin Freshwater Institute have been collecting data on water quality and encroaching pollutants for 30 years, the data collected in a single day in this new research effort will equal 10 times the amount collected over the entire 30-years, according to John Kelly III, vice president and director of IBM Research.

He said the massive amount of data will be fed into his firm’s supercomputers, which can process one million calculations a billion times per second in an effort to forecast the fate of the lake.

“We’re going to turn on the high-beam headlights and examine the future of Lake George,” he said.

Kelly said such research methodology applied on Lake George, along with approaches utilized in existing IBM aquatic research projects in Ireland and Brazil, would serve as a model for environmental research around the world.

"Lake George is actually a perfect-sized laboratory," he said, noting it was big enough to have complex problems but small enough to accommodate a feasible study.

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