Article

Swim For Science

“The Longest Swim is a unique opportunity to better share our scientific results and our message to the public, but also to collect very valuable samples for our research.”
Dr. ERIK ZETTLER, Sea Education Association

BEYOND THE WATER

The Longest Swim is an opportunity to rally people and challenge them to contemplate the impact we have on our oceans. Throughout the expedition, especially when crossing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Ben and his crew will interact with scientists and their audience to share their experience every step of the way.

A CITIZEN SCIENCE EXPEDITION

Under the direction of researchers from 12 scientific institutions including NASA and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the crew will perform oceanic and medical research throughout the journey, marking the first time such scientific work will be conducted by the general public.

What are the 8 scientific protocols of The Longest Swim ?

THE PLASTISPHERE
How does the Great Pacific Garbage Patch affect life in the ocean and on land?

Plastic debris is found throughout the world’s oceans, reaching concentrations of more than 1 million microplastic pieces per square kilometer in some regions, like the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. By examining particles the crew will collect between Tokyo and San Francisco, researchers will learn more about how long they’ve been in the ocean and what mechanisms created them.

RADIATION FROM FUKUSHIMA
Where did contaminants from the Fukushima disaster go?

Scientists estimate that most of the contaminants released from Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011 wound up in the ocean, where they were diluted and transported westward. Ben will follow a similar track during his swim so, thanks to a wearable “RadBand” sampling device and conventional water sampling, he and the crew will collect data on how far and how fast these contaminants are moving, as well as their concentration across the Pacific Ocean.

HIGH DEFINITION WATER DATA
What are the physical and chemical properties of the Pacific Ocean?

Every day of the cruise, the crew will use the i-SAMI Ocean pH Sensor prototype and a conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) device to collect data on the properties of the Pacific Ocean. This provides essential environmental measurements helps researchers investigating the effects of ocean acidification, a result of climate change that is harmful to coral reefs and other marine life.

GIANT PHYTOPLANKTON
Could a giant phytoplankton influence nutrient availability at the ocean’s surface?

Half of the world’s oxygen comes from primary producers living in the ocean, but sometimes essential nutrients can be depleted in the upper layers where photosynthesis occurs. Some giants in the phytoplankton world may avoid this problem by migrating to deeper water to harvest these nutrients, then rise back up for photosynthesis. Ben and the crew will record any sightings they make of this phytoplankton, as well as take samples. Learning how this species acquires nutrients can help scientists understand large-scale nutrient cycling in our oceans, as well as the future impacts of global warming.

MICROBIOME
How does extreme exercise affect the bacteria in and on our bodies?

Samples from Ben’s gut will be used to help determine what kind of changes occur in the digestive system of extreme athletes during exercise. Swabs taken from the surface of his skin after a day of swimming will also provide clues as to how his microflora interacts with marine bacteria.

CHALLENGING THE HEART
Can extreme exercise hurt the heart?

Using the same remote guidance echocardiography NASA uses to monitor astronauts on the International Space Station, the crew will help doctors in Dallas, Texas keep track of any changes to Ben’s heart during his six month swim. Researchers will use this data to explore what impact extreme exercise has on the heart, and determine if there’s a limit to how much exercise the human heart can handle.

THE GRAVITY EFFECT
How does low gravity affect bones and vision?

During his swim Ben will be immersed in water for eight hours a day, which will eliminate two gravitational gradients: head-to-foot and front-to-back. This creates a unique analog to long-term space travel that is better than land-bound research protocols. Researchers want to know if the non-weight bearing exercise Ben will be doing can help protect against the loss of bone density in low-gravity conditions, as well as how his posture out of the water can help prevent or reduce vision loss due to increased eye pressure.

A PSYCHOLOGICAL JOURNEY
How will the demands of his swim affect Ben’s emotions?

Ben will submit to extreme physical and psychological stresses during the course of his six month swim across the Pacific Ocean. Researchers will evaluate how interpersonal contact with the crew and the larger audience around the world impacts his emotional state.

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March 29, 2017

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