A Deep Dive into Jordan Lake

Using state-of-the-art instrumentation and lab analyses, UNC researchers gather information on Jordan Lake.

A man coils a rope while standing on a boat.
Ryan Neve, an engineering technician at the Institute of Marine Sciences, coils a rope to assist with lowering equipment into Jordan Lake. Neve and scientists are trying to gather more details about the nutrients in the lake.
June 29th, 2017

Since its impoundment as a reservoir in 1983, Jordan Lake’s water quality has raised concerns among natural resource managers. In 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency required the state to develop a plan to protect and restore water quality in the lake. In 2009, the state developed rules intended to reduce the nutrients entering the lake and thus improve the water quality.

Now, the North Carolina legislature has asked researchers at UNC to gather more detailed data about the sources of contamination to the lake, the impacts these are having in the lake, and strategies for controlling these inputs. More than two dozen UNC faculty, staff, and students are engaged in a three-year study that includes the deployment of state-of-the-art instrumentation and laboratory analyses for measuring water quality in the lake.

“We know the total maximum daily load of nutrients has been exceeded,” says Ryan Neve, an engineering technician at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS). “But we need this deep dive to learn more about where these are coming from and the extent to which they are causing the lake’s water quality problems.”

Researchers from IMS, the Department of Marine Sciences, and the Institute for the Environment hope to gain that cause-and-effect understanding by combining their expertise in analogous aquatic systems to data that will be coming from this new study.

This is just one of many studies currently underway at Jordan Lake. A full list of current projects can be found at the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory website.

two divers float in Jordan Lake

Safritt and Whipple prepare to dive to the next station.

a metal frame with rope lowers into a lake

Safrit assists in guiding the current profiling station, which weighs about 180 pounds, into the water.

orange ropes attached to memory cards

This information cannot be transferred in real time so the research team will return monthly to service the instruments and retrieve data.

scuba diver holds rope in the lake

Whipple checks the line used to lower the current profiler into the water.

two scuba divers put on gear and prepare for dive

Whipple and Glenn Safrit, the dive safety officer at IMS, suit up. The pair will dive down to the bottom of the lake (approximately 35 feet) to ensure all the equipment is properly in place.

three men lower equipment into lake

The team prepares the equipment before lowering it into the water. They have deployed multiple stations in the Neuse River, as well as the New River, Onslow Beach, and Cape Lookout — but this is the first time they’re putting them to work in a lake.

two men attach buoys to cement blocks

Neve and Whipple attach the buoys to cement blocks to hold them in place and avoid interference with the instrumentation.

a man coils a rope

Neve coils a rope to assist with lowering equipment into the water.

two men drive a boat on the lake

Tony Whipple, an IMS research technician, drives the boat to the first station site. The davit system installed on the right side of the boat was constructed in-house at IMS, and can lift and lower approximately 300 pounds. “It allows us to use a much smaller boat for this type of work,” Neve says.

charts and notes for station installation

Detailed charts and notes provide instructions for the installation of four stations, each of which includes a temperature and light intensity logger array and an acoustic current profiler. The former detects and logs temperature and the amount of light at the different water depths.

white institute of marine sciences truck tows a boat

After traveling from the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS) in Morehead City, the research team prepares to launch the boat, loaded down with all their equipment, from the Crosswinds Boating Center at Jordan Lake.