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“Using Data to Protect Lake George”

Remarks by
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The Jefferson Project at Lake George News Announcement | News Release
Sagamore Resort, Bolton Landing, NY

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Welcome.  We are delighted that you could join us for the launch of an exciting new partnership between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute—and two longtime partners, IBM and The FUND for Lake George.

Rensselaer has a long history with Lake George, and it was the generosity and vision of David M. Darrin, Rensselaer Class of 1940, and his wife, Peggy, that allowed Rensselaer to establish a scientific platform on Lake George in 1967 in the Margaret A. and David M. Darrin ‘40 Fresh Water Institute. Since then, Rensselaer has made significant investments in the Darrin Fresh Water Institute and its facilities. We have invested in its researchers and students, and now we are investing in this historic partnership.

Today, I am pleased to announce that IBM, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the FUND for Lake George will be collaborating on a new three-year, multi-million-dollar effort to monitor, understand, and remediate the water quality of Lake George. Called The Jefferson Project at Lake George, it is named for Thomas Jefferson, who in 1791 judged Lake George as “without comparison, the most beautiful water [he] ever saw.”

Lake George remains uniquely beautiful today—with the water clarity that characterizes such oligotrophic, or low-nutrient, lakes that do not support the growth of large amounts of algae. However, Lake George suffers from a problem common to bodies of water all over the globe: too much human affection.  Its water quality is declining as more people are drawn to its shores, as more salt runs into the lake from road de-icing agents, as more boats bring in invasive species such as Asian clams and zebra mussels. There is a dead zone on the south end of the lake whose causes are not yet identified.

We clearly need to devise a more evolved form of co-existence with magnificent but fragile ecosystems such as this one, while assuring its accessibility for those who live and recreate in such areas.  Advanced technologies of all kinds—but particularly those that increase our store of useful knowledge—will be crucial to that goal.  Here at Lake George, we intend to establish a global model for ecosystem monitoring and understanding.  We are going to prove that the most powerful tool of all in environmental protection is data, intelligently aggregated and analyzed.

Two weeks ago, we launched The Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications, or The Rensselaer IDEA, specifically to enable applications such as this one—a local application with potentially global influence. The Rensselaer IDEA brings together Rensselaer talents and strengths in high-performance computing, web science, data science, predictive analytics, and immersive technologies—to allow us to tease out and elucidate emergent questions and issues for the first time, and to arrive at new solutions to lingering problems. 

Initiatives such as this one are only possible because over the last fourteen years, we have put into place the people, platforms, programs and partnerships that have transformed Rensselaer into world-class technological research university.  Now, when we talk about our second generation strategic blueprint -- the Rensselaer Plan 2024, and, with it, and our intention of becoming transformative in the global impact of our research, The Rensselaer IDEA and The Jefferson Project are precisely what we mean.

For The Jefferson Project, we have a foundation in an historical 30-year data set on the water chemistry of Lake George that is the product of decades of collaboration between the Rensselaer Darrin Fresh Water Institute and the FUND for Lake George.

To that, IBM and Rensselaer will add a remarkable cyberphysical platform that will allow real-time data monitoring, including fixed sensors, sensors mounted on robots, and innovations such as flow-cams that can take snapshots of the lake’s microscopic organisms and transmit them in real time. 

A state-of-the-art mesocosm facility—mesocosms are tools that allow for controlled conditions within the lake—will give us an experimental platform to allow scientists to determine how the food web, for example, reacts to different salt concentrations.

A high-performance computing platform at Rensselaer, as well as IBM and Rensselaer innovations in data modeling, analytics, and visualization, will allow the circulation patterns in the lake to be comprehended for the first time. Professor Deborah McGuinness of Rensselaer’s Tetherless World Constellation is developing the tools to contextualize the data collected here, and to integrate it so that trends and correlations become apparent—as well as allowing it to be “mashed up” with relevant related data, including data that the Darrin Fresh Water Institute has collected on 35 Adirondack Lakes.   

One of the main goals of The Jefferson Project is to give scientists the predictive capabilities that will allow us to understand the future of the lake under different scenarios. With the knowledge generated by this work, policymakers and community members alike will be able to make the right decisions to keep Lake George forever crystalline.

I believe science needs to inform public policy, not the other way around.

The beauty of Lake George is timeless.  Today, we take an important step to ensure that it also is endless—and that it teaches us important lessons in protecting water resources around the globe.

Thank you.

Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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