Saving Lake George: Can Sensors And Big Data Protect $1 Billion In Tourism?

Campers and wildlife enthusiasts are converging on New York State’s crystal-clear, 32-mile-long Lake George for one of the last hurrahs of summer. While they’re busy setting up their tents on the interior islands, they may run across scientists being dispatched there over the next three years as part of an ambitious, multi-million-dollar environmental monitoring plan that will use sensors and Big Data analytics to study the lake’s complicated ecosystem.

This isn’t just some tree-hugger-inspired boondoogle. Surrounded almost entirely by forests (46 percent of which are state preserves), Lake George generates a whopping $1 billion in tourism annually. It may seem invulnerable, but the long-term health of its natural ecosystem is in question, which could pose a threat to that revenue.

That’s because over the past 30 years, road salt applied to the flanking roads during the harsh winter months as well as storm-water runoff have contributed to a threefold increase in salt levels in the lake. Both of these factors are also encouraging chlorophyll growth, which threatens water clarity, and therefore tourism.

Enter the Jefferson Project at Lake George (named for the third president of the United States, who was a fan), spearheaded by IBM IBM +0.09%‘s Smarter Water experts, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the non-profit FUND for Lake George.

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