The Jefferson Project at Lake George, one of the most ambitious research projects to deploy Big Data and analytics technology to manage and protect a body of fresh water, is entering a new phase in which enormous amounts of data will be captured from sensors and analyzed. Scientists anticipate that insights uncovered from the data collection and discovery stage of the project will create a blueprint to preserve important lakes, rivers and other bodies of fresh water around the globe.
By capturing and pooling data from all sorts of sensors and swiftly analyzing it, scientists, policy makers and environmental groups around the globe could soon accurately predict how weather, contaminants, invasive species and other threats might affect a lake’s natural environment.
A collaboration between IBM Research (NYSE: IBM), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and The FUND for Lake George, the Jefferson Project involves more than 60 scientists from around the world and IBM Research labs in Brazil, Ireland, Texas and New York. The project is deploying Internet of Things technology on a grand scale in conjunction with research and experimentation to understand the ecology of large lakes and the impact of human activity.
Thirty-five years of monitoring the chemistry and algae in Lake George have demonstrated the lake is changing. Chloride inputs from road salt have tripled, algae have increased by one third, and five invasive species have been introduced. These factors threaten entire regional economies driven by water recreation, boating and other forms of tourism on fresh water lakes, rivers and streams.
An array of sophisticated sensors of different shapes and sizes, including underwater sonar based sensors; customized software programs and solar energy systems to power off-grid equipment have been deployed, tested and refined. These enhancements have led to greatly improved measurement data that will be used to better understand the lake and lead to improvements in the accuracy of four predictive models built by IBM researchers that precisely measure weather events, water run-off from the surrounding mountains into the lake, inputs of road salt to the lake, and water circulation.
Even as the data collection and discovery phase of the Jefferson Project ramps up, the ambitious initiative has already offered intriguing insights into Lake George. For example, Lake George flows south to north, with the lake draining into Lake Champlain via the La Chute River. However, sensors deployed on the lake bottom during the winter ice-over period recently confirmed complicated flow patterns within Lake George. These findings, which are being further investigated, include higher than expected currents and counter-currents during the time in which the lake is frozen.
In addition, data from sensors recently confirmed the existence of an underwater “ghost wave” which can be as high as nearly 100 feet running about 30 feet below the surface of the 32-mile long lake. Scientifically known as a seiche wave, the phenomenon is characterized by dramatic oscillations that occur beneath the lake which are mostly undetectable on the surface.
The computing infrastructure powering the Jefferson Project involves multiple computing platforms, ranging from an IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer located in a data center on the Rensselaer campus to embedded, intelligent-computing elements and other Internet of Things technology situated on various sensor platforms in and around the lake.
For the past 35 years, research on Lake George was conducted manually, with scientists laboriously collecting water samples by hand for analysis in the lab. With the Jefferson Project, this important work is being digitized and accelerated, augmented with automated real-time data monitoring via a customized network of sensors that collect massive amounts of information and transmit it to supercomputers for analyses and modeling using sophisticated 3-D visualization technology. The project is also developing new tools, such as image recognition software that identifies plankton from data collected via a GPS-enabled towable camera, as well as state-of-the-art data visualizations that bring new data-driven discoveries to life for scientists, tourists and local residents.
Protecting bodies of fresh water around the world is critical as it comprises only 3% of all water on earth, yet two-thirds of it is frozen. The profound impact of fresh water – underscored by the severe drought in California and recent, devastating floods in Texas – demonstrates how closely water is linked to the economy and welfare of people and all living things. Fresh water is the lifeblood of agriculture and industry.