Research nets $20 million


UVM has just been awarded $20 million dollars to study Lake Champlain and the Lake Champlain basin. The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, will have an emphasis on how public policy affects the lake and its health in regard to the changing climate. The team of scientists will be led by Judith Van Houten, a professor in the Biology department, and co-directed by Kelvin Chu, a physics professor. One of the team’s goals is to inform policy-makers about the affects land use and pollution policies will have on Lake Champlain, according to a press release. This $20 million provided to the University is the largest grant given in school history. The band of researchers will be measuring the processes of the lake on a biological and chemical level, and in data will be gathered from below the icy surface of the lake throughout the winter, the press released stated. The research will run for the next five years. “The research is designed to take into account the many factors that affect the lake such as the land use, streams and rivers of its watershed and the dynamics of the lake itself,” Van Houten said. The research is a continuation of a 2007 study that was backed by a $6.7 million grant; this new fieldwork will combine the data to make models that can demonstrate the consequences of each possible policy change, the press release stated. “If we want to know the impact of wider roads, zoning mandating smaller lawns, pesticide control or new targets for total nutrient loading in agriculture, those data can be fed into the model,” said researcher Kelvin Chu. Not only will the grant help tremendously by informing the public of how to keep our lake healthy, the research will provide job opportunities, science education and scholarships for Abenaki students, engineering and mathematics majors, veterans and more, according to the press release. Local residents and students can keep up with the research progress by watching the television series, Emerging Science, that will produce twenty episodes tracking the evolution of the project and emerging technology. Although this research could potentially provide educational opportunities and a boost to the job market, some students are skeptical of the amount of money given to a project that doesn’t produce easily accessible results. “It seems like a lot of money if the scientific information can’t be used as a correlation to other lake studies, and five years is not a long term benefit to those who would obtain those jobs,” junior Anna Herbert said. Until the research is under way, the project may not be easily understood or accessible to the general public. “Often times, scientific research asks very specific questions that seem intangible to those not in their field, but when a project’s aim is constructing a model what that really means is generalization,” Nicholas de la Rua, a graduate student in the biology department, said.  Once the study yields results, the benefits of conducting this research on Lake Champlain will become apparent, de la Rua said. “Imagine if we could predict the changes in living and non-living things in a lake based on our actions in that greater ecosystem by studying Lake Champlain for five years,” he said. “I think many people would be astonished.”