Public can contribute to records through new app and website
By Zachary Matson
Lija Treibergs, a research associate at the Adirondack Watershed Institute, held the ice auger and drill close to her body as she pressed through the final inches of ice on Lower St. Regis Lake earlier this month.
As the auger pierced through the frozen layers, a flush of cold water bubbled to the frozen surface and up to shin height.
“That’s deep,” Treibergs said over the blustering wind.
Treibergs and Brendan Wiltse, a senior research scientist at AWI, measured 17 inches of ice that day, the latest thickness measurement taken every two weeks on the 350-acre lake that serves as the view from much of AWI’s office at Paul Smith’s College.
“It’s the thickest we have measured this winter,” Wiltse said.
Wiltse, who also collects data on Mirror Lake, hopes that ice fishermen, residents and visitors will contribute their ice observations to the Adirondack Park’s ever-growing record.
AWI researchers in February launched a new lake ice observation network, which includes a website and mobile app, asking the public to submit observations about lake ice coverage and measurements of thickness and snow depth.
The goal is to increase the pool of data on Adirondack ice conditions and improve the scientific understanding of how lakes are responding to climate change.
Some Adirondack lakes have long-standing records of when ice forms and leaves each year. For instance, data on Mirror Lake dates back well over a century. Many of the records of individual lakes have been sustained by just one individual tracking local ice conditions for decades.
“We don’t need the one person watching all of the time if we get enough reports,” Wiltse said.
Scientists have used the Adirondack records in global studies that have shown ice is retreating from northern lakes at an accelerating rate.
AWI’s new lake observation project is seeking two main types of ice information.
The first is general observations about coverage on lakes by viewing from the shoreline or by driving along a water body: people can list a lake as having no ice coverage, being partially covered, mostly covered or completely covered.
The second is direct measurements of thickness and snow depth covering the ice. The information will help scientists better understand trends in ice coverage and, if the database grows large enough, provide communities with a better understanding of dangerous locations.
Wiltse said they started the new website and app with a few beta testers this winter and hope to promote the project to ice fishing guides and suppliers as they seek to convert data that many fishermen are already collecting into usable information for scientists.
The researchers at AWI aren’t just interested in ice conditions. While water quality on dozens of Adirondack lakes is monitored during the ice-free months, far fewer lakes are studied year round. AWI this winter made Lower St. Regis the second lake that its researchers collect data from throughout the entire year.
The Adirondack Lake Survey Corporation also monitors water quality in a subset of lakes throughout the year.
Researchers collect water samples from the deepest point of the lake – known as the “deephole” – and repeat the same measurements across all seasons. The measurements include: conductivity, pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll and phycocyanin (an indicator of algal-forming cyanobacteria).
Lower St. Regis Lake reaches depths of about 38 feet deep. Treibergs and Wiltse wore snowshoes and floatation jackets and pulled a sled with their equipment as they walked out to the deephole, a path they know by memory and a little GPS help.
The researchers drilled two holes, so they could each complete part of the data collection. Wiltse drew two separate samples, a mixed sample of water in the first two meters from the surface and a sample from one meter above the lake bottom. Once back in the lab, the samples will be divided into dozens of smaller samples, which are processed under strict guidelines to analyze key water-quality measurements such as sodium, chloride, phosphorus and nitrate levels. Wiltse said “many hours” of work are required for analysis.
In a nearby hole, Treibergs dropped a device called a sonde. The sonde is outfitted with sensors that collect real-time water quality data later uploaded and analyzed in the lab. First, she waited for the sensors to acclimate to the temperature.
“When it’s cold, it takes quite some time for the sensors to calibrate,” said Treibergs, who has worked as a researcher in Antarctic waters and the Alaskan tundra.
After the sensors were spitting out consistent measurements, she collected data in one-meter increments to the bottom of the lake.
Water conditions during the winter play a big role in the conditions the rest of the year, influencing the health of fisheries and the likelihood that harmful algal blooms will develop in the summer and fall. The data is all the more important because of its paucity.
“Not a lot of lakes are studied in the winter time,” Wiltse said.
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There was a project several years started back in Dec of 2018 collecting ice thickness data for ADK lakes using a cellphone app. A researcher at Darrin Fresh Water Institute at Bolton Landing with the same applications of ideas for data collection and theories affecting lakes in the ADKs. It’s seems very familiar to the Darrin’s researchers work. The article was published in the NYSFOLA magazine in 2020.