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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Scientific Research During The Longest Swim

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

When Benoît Lecomte walks down the sandy beach on the eastern coast of Japan and steps off the coast of Chōshi in Chiba Prefecture in late May, he will begin the longest solo stage swim in human history.

He estimates that this stage swim will take 6-8 months to cross 5,419 miles (8,721 km) from Japan to the United States in wholly unchartered waters for an individual in the water.

To put his attempt in perspective, his 5,419-mile (8,721 km) swim is significantly further than Martin Strel's 3,273-mile (5,268 km) 66-day stage swim down the Amazon River in 2007 - that was in itself longer than the width of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Longest Swim will certainly live up to its name. But it is much more than an endurance event that pushes the physiological and psychological limits of an athlete. "Lecomte has taken years to raise the scientific and medical interest in his swim as well as to develop the research and communication equipment, prepare his escort boat, carefully recruit, train and prepare a support team on the water and on land, raise funds, and define the research protocols and goals that will extend from university laboratories and elementary school classes," observes Steven Munatones.

"Lecomte has pulled together a tremendous team that will have a unique opportunity to study the Pacific Ocean and human endurance."

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. Among the numerous scientific activities that will be conducted during the swim, including those on the boat and those on land based on the findings and data obtained during the swim, will include the following:

1. The team [listed below] 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?"

2. They will 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?"

3. They will 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 stage swim affects an individual’s emotions.

4. They will remotely monitor Lecomte's physical condition and provide any required support. 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.

5. Lecomte will wear a RadBand, a wearable cesium collector developed by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, around his ankle. The RadBand will filter the water through to a piece of resin that absorbs the cesium. Lecomte's scientific team onboard his escort boat will collect samples, stock them in a freezer, and hand them to Woods Hole researchers after his journey to analyze. His team will also be doing daily water samples with a bucket and filter it through a pump in order to measure the cesium, so we can compare the results with the RadBand.

6. 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'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 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."

The Longest Swim Team includes the following:

Onboard Team:
1. Ben Lecomte, swimmer, advocate, founder
2. James 'Scotty' Scott, captain and expedition manager
3. Paul Lecomte, project manager
4. Gino Gönenç Kalganoğlu, filmmaker
5. Tyral Dalitz, research assistant
6. Renaud Gomez, marine scientist
7. Dr. Anastasia Benjafield, doctor
8. Henry McCann, engineer

Support Team on Land:
1. Dr. Spike Briggs MSOS, Chief Medical Advisor
2. Dr. Benjamin Levine, Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine and Ben's cardiologist
3. Dr. Molly S. Bray, University of Texas Department of Nutritional Science and Ben's nutritionist
4. Dr. Edward Coyle, University of Texas Department of Kinesiology and Health Education and Ben's kinesiologist
5. Jeremy David, Weather Routing, Senior Meteorologist Advisor
6. Dr. Armin T. Ellis, Exploration Institute, logistics coordinator
7. Jacquelin Hipes, Science Program Coordinator
8. Bachir Saouaf, Davis & Goliath, Communication Coordinator
9. Léa Hagemeier, Community and Content Manager
10. Tedde de Boer, Developer of the live tracker

Oceanic Research Advisors:
1. Dr. Ken Buesseler, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
2. Dr. Tracy Mincer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
3. Dr. Michael Degranpre, University of Montana
4. Dr. Kara Lavender Law, Sea Education Association
5. Dr. Erik Zettler, Sea Education Association
6. Dr. Linda Amaral Zettler, Marine Biological Laboratory
7. Dr. Gerald Chris Shank, University of Texas Marine Science Institute
8. Dr. Brett J. Baker, University of Texas Marine Science Institute
9. Dr. Tracy Villareal, University of Texas Marine Science Institute

Medical Research Advisors:
1. Dr. Benjamin Levine, Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine
2. Dr. Adrian Leblanc, Universities Space Research Association
3. Dr. Jack A. Gilbert, Argonne National Laboratory
4. Dr. Eduardo Marques, INESC TEC

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