BURLINGTON, Vt. — A science program at the University of Vermont has been awarded a $20 million federal grant, the largest grant in the school's history, to help study the health of the Lake Champlain basin and look at the effects of climate change on it, officials announced Friday.
The five-year National Science Foundation grant will be used to take into account the many factors that affect the Lake Champlain Basin, land use, streams and rivers of its watershed, said UVM biology professor Judith Van Houten, director of Vermont EPSCoR — UVM's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.
"Ultimately, many factors contribute to algal blooms or fish die-offs, and also to positive changes in the basin as we adapt to a changing climate," she said.
The project will bring together other institutions of higher education — St. Michael's, Middlebury and Johnson State colleges — as well as state agencies, nonprofit groups and the private sector to study the lake. The project will also create 16 full-time jobs and a half dozen college scholarships, Van Houten said.
Following the spring flooding that left lakeside communities under water and the remnants of Hurricane Irene that wreaked havoc on Vermont, the project gives researchers an opportunity to study and respond to climate change in the Lake Champlain basin to protect homes and towns while restoring the health of the lake, said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
"There are people that want to deny science. But you can't deny reality. And what we're seeing is reality. And we've been humbled to learn that climate can and will have a dramatic effect on every aspect on our life in Vermont," he said.
"We can demonstrate to the rest of the country that we're ahead of everybody in what we're seeing. And we can become the model not only for our country but for the world of what can be done," Leahy said.
Scientists will gather data on the chemical, physical, geological and biological processes in the lake, then analyze the data and turn it into models that can be used to test scenarios for policy makers, UVM officials said.
Social scientists will survey lake users and landowners to collect data on external factors affecting the lake and survey public officials to learn how decisions on the lake's health are made, UVM said.
"We wish to bring a holistic view to the Lake Champlain Basin," Van Houten said.
The grant follows a $6.7 million federal grant that EPSCoR was awarded to help scientists better understand pollution in Lake Champlain.
"This project builds on existing data and aims to gather new information through scenario testing and sensors placed in the lake to help predict and better understand how the watersheds and the in-lake processes react to affect the health of the lake," Van Houten said.