The Offshore Chemistry Program, run by the Darrin Fresh Water Institute at RPI, has been monitoring the deep waters of Lake George in New York for 40 years. Lake George, nicknamed the Queen of American Lakes, is famed for the transparency of its water and a new report on the health of the lake reveals that it is doing rather well.
According to the report, although concentrations of chemicals and pollutants like salt and nutrients have increased in the deep waters of Lake George, they are still too low to harm the ecosystem at those depths.
The Offshore Chemistry Program studies the lake as part of a collaboration between RPI, IBM Research, and the FUND for Lake George that is called the Jefferson Project. This long-term commitment provides a wealth of information over time matched by few lake studies in the world.
The recent results show that levels of salt, the nutrient orthophosphate, and chlorophyll have increased substantially over time, but none are yet at a level that will cause harm.
Orthophosphate occurs naturally, but most likely the higher levels are due to improperly functioning septic systems, failing wastewater treatment systems, and stormwater runoff. The orthophosphate most likely triggered the increase in chlorophyll, which probably is associated with increased density of chlorophyll in individual algal cells, rather than an increase in total algal mass in the lake.
Overall, the results demonstrate the continuing resilience of Lake George to a growing array of stressors. In nearly 40 years of human activities, the lake has changed in a number of ways, but the changes have so far been relatively small. With such careful monitoring, we can hope to keep them that way.
Photo, posted September 24, 2009, courtesy of GPA Photo Archive via Flickr.