Last August, my son J.D. and I were attending a Hudson Valley Renegades baseball game when a sudden storm halted play. Rick Zolzer, the public announcer, told the crowd there would be a half-hour rain delay. Approximately 35 minutes later, the rain passed and the game resumed. The crowd accepted this wonderful feat of prediction as if it were an everyday thing. Which it was.
From his booth atop a small, minor league baseball field in Fishkill, New York, Rick had access to an elaborate global network of field stations, equipment arrays, transmission facilities, communication and observation satellites, super-computers and mathematical modeling systems that could tell him the weather in real-time anywhere on the planet and offer predictions of how and when the weather would change. We all gain access to that same network every time we listen to a broadcast of a weather report.
Imagine having that capability for the world's rivers and estuaries. Imagine an "observatory" connected to a network of sensors and technology that would report data on fish migration, the movement of pollutants, the effects of physical alterations to a river, or of global warming on water levels and habitat in a tidal estuary. Imagine that observatory feeding an information system that translates and broadcasts the data to researcher and student alike. Imagine sitting at your home computer, entering longitude, latitude and depth of water into a website and watching a visual depiction of the activities inside your community river, as they are happening, in real-time.
The challenges to water resources are local and global, occurring worldwide in communities both affluent and poor. In the Hudson River and estuary, polychlorinated biphenyl, the 1940s wonder chemical turned suspected human carcinogen, now contaminates large portions of the ecosystem. In Brazil, mercury runoff from gold mining plagues the Tapajos River basin. In China, fertilizer chemicals from agriculture pollute the lower Yangtze River. Worldwide, dams, water diversions and dredging and filling ruin irreplaceable resources, threatening human and natural communities. It is estimated that fresh water fish stocks - vital for food and commerce - have declined by 50% since the 1970s. Water usage has increased six-fold - twice the rate of population.
The problems that affect these magnificent ecosystems and the communities that rely upon them happen in real-time. To protect properly both human and nature we must understand the challenges and create solutions in real-time as well. Beacon Institute is committed to bringing this 21st century capability to the world's rivers and estuaries.
Most of the world's water problems occur in the developing world, where access to clean water is as rare as access to computers. More than 3 million deaths per year are attributable to water-related diseases alone. Most of these deaths are children under the age of five. (For more information see: http://www.unesco.org/) Advances in the same technologies that will equip elaborate river observatories will also enable the deployment of small-package, early warning systems to remote locations - miniature submersible laboratories that could monitor viruses, parasites and pollution and communicate the results via satellite to research centers and health agencies.
I am describing a bold initiative rooted in the needs of the 21st century. But Beacon Institute is embarking not on a new journey; it is participating in a continuing human quest: to coexist with our environment in a way that enriches and protects human and nature alike and bequeaths a sustainable legacy to those who follow in our path.
To fulfill our mission will require the best of a multi-disciplinary team of scientists, engineers, policy experts and educators. We have assembled that team and are building the facilities that will help transform the Hudson Valley into a global center for the development of river and estuary observatories and monitoring technologies. Over the next decade, we will invest more than $100 million in this effort. But even this will not be enough. With the help of partners and collaborators from research institutions, higher education and the not-for-profit and private commercial sectors, we hope to double the size of that investment.
On this website you can meet our faculty, institutional partners, staff and board of directors; monitor the development of our physical facilities; learn about our cutting-edge programs; and stay current on our exhibits, workshops and conferences.
We encourage and welcome your support, and especially your participation.
Director and Chief Executive Officer