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Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Tools Of A Transpacific Stage Swim

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

When Benoît Lecomte swim 5,500 miles from Tokyo to San Francisco across the Pacific Ocean during The Longest Swim, he will use a variety of equipment [shown above].

His maritime science project will be anchored by a support team and researchers who will study the Plastiphere, as they try to answer the question, "How does the Great Plastic Garbage Patch affect life in the ocean and on land?"

They will also study radiation from the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster and try to answer the questions, "Where did contaminants from the Fukushima disaster go?" and "What are the physical and chemical properties of the Pacific Ocean?"

They will also study the possibility that giant phytoplankton influence nutrient availability at the ocean's surface, how extreme exercise affects the bacteria in and on our bodies, address the possibility that extreme exercise can hurt the heart, look at the issue of does low gravity affect bones and vision, and understand how the demands of a 6-month solo stage swim affect an individual’s emotions.

There will be over 1,000 scientific samples collected to support the work of researchers from 12 scientific institutions, monitored by 15 cameras on board based on 4 years of preparation.

Lecomte is currently the Associate Director of Sustainability Services at Progea, a global environmental and sustainability consulting firm that helps organizations worldwide to assess their exposure to environmental, health and safety, social, and sustainability issues.

There will be six members aboard his escort sail boat and will be supported by a team of doctors and other specialists on land, who will remotely monitor his physical condition and provide any required support.

Every day of the stage swim, Lecomte's 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. Lecomte writes, "This provides essential environmental measurements for several of the swim’s projects and also helps researchers investigating the effects of ocean acidification, a result of climate change that is harmful to coral reefs and other marine life. The crew will also evaluate water quality at key points during the swim using a novel light-cycling technology provided by Assure Controls."

Lecomte himself will serve as a living laboratory. Samples from Lecomte's stomach will be used to help determine what kind of changes occur in the digestive system of extreme athletes during exercise. Additionally, swabs will be taken from the surface of his skin after each day of swimming 8 hours in order to provide clues to how his microflora interacts with marine bacteria.

Lecomte's unprecedented team of scientific luminaries includes Dr. Benjamin Levine, Director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. Dr. Levine says, "We are very interested in really studying the outer edges of human performance. Ben's swim across the Pacific [Ocean] certainly counts as that."

Using the same remote guidance echocardiography that NASA uses to monitor astronauts on the International Space Station, Lecomte's crew will help doctors in Dallas, Texas keep track of any changes to his heart during the 6-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.

It may be the first time that a swimmer's efforts help efforts of mankind in space.

His team writes, "During his swim, Ben will be immersed in water for 8 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."

Lecomte's team includes Dr. Linda Amaral-Zettler (Associate Professor in the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University), Dr. Ken Buesseler (Senior Scientist of Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), Dr. Michael DeGrandpre (Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Montana), Dr. Kara Lavender Law (Research Professor of Oceanography at SEA Semester Environmental Studies in Woods Hole & at Sea), Dr. Tracy Mincer (Associate Scientist of Marine Chemisty and Geochemistry at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), Dr. Gerald Chris Shank (Senior Lecturer in the Department of Marine Science at the University of Texas at Austin's Marine Science Institute), Dr. Tracy Villareal (Professor in the Department of Marine Science at the University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute), Dr. Erik Zettler (Associate Dean for Institutional Relations, Professor of Oceanography at the SEA Semester Environmental Studies at Woods Hole & at Sea), Dr. Molly S. Bray (Professor of Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin School of Human Ecology), Dr. Edward Coyle (Professor of Exercise Science at the University of Texas at Austin), Dr. Adrian Leblanc (Director of the Division of Space Life Sciences at the Universities Space Research Association), Dr. Benjamin Levine (Distinguished Professorship in Exercise Sciences at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center), and Dr. Scott Parazynski (astronaut, Mount Everest climber, physician). Each will have a specific role in the transoceanic swim of six months.

For more information about this scientifically fascinating aquatic adventure, visit The Longest Swim.

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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