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High-tech Lake George research project kicks off with contour mapping

Planes, boats to survey lake

— This week, teams of scientists are kicking off the heralded Jefferson Project — an advanced, world-class environmental monitoring and prediction system in Lake George — utilizing some high-technology gear to survey the contours of the lake’s bottom as well as the surrounding mountains.

The multi-million-dollar research project has been termed a scientific study of unparalleled scope. It’s purpose is to assess environmental threats to Lake George.

Beginning this week, highly specialized boats, equipped with multi-beam sonar, will be cruising in repetitive patterns over the deeper areas of the lake. The process is initiating in the lake’s southern basin and then in the next few months extending to other areas, according to a statement released this week by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

As the boats cannot cruise in the shallower areas of the lake due to risk of damaging the precision devices suspended from their hulls, those portions will be surveyed by aircraft equipped with custom-designed bathymetric light detection and ranging equipment.

This initial aerial survey will last for about three days, depending on weather conditions. The planes will fly slowly at an altitude of about 1,600 feet above the lake in a repetitive pattern to map the lake’s underwater contours.

The three-year, ambitious Jefferson Project was announced June 27 by representatives of the three entities collaborating on the effort: RPI, 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, sediment deposition, 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.

The massive amount of data collected in a single day in this new research effort will equal 10 times the amount of data collected over 30 years by the scientists of RPI’s Freshwater Institute, who have been studying Lake George continuously during those three decades.

This world-class technology, which will be producing real-time visual modeling, is to help scientists and environmentalists understand the natural processes of aquatic organisms and their interaction with pollutants — including road salt and stormwater runoff — as well as invasive species, the experts have said.

Scientists have said they expect the project to serve as a model for environmental research around the world.

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