Tenneswim: Swimming the Tennessee River to Raise Water Quality Awareness

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The Tennessee River. Photo by Betsy Boden.

During the summer of 2014 Andreas Fath broke the world record for speed swimming the Rhine River from its source in the Swiss Alps to its confluence with the North Sea. This 28 day, 765-mile swim was more than an exceptional athletic achievement. Fath took daily water samples that provided an unprecedented look at the quality of water within this historic river.

Partnering with the University of the South, the Tennessee Aquarium , the University of Georgia River Basin Center, the Nature Conservancy, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Lyndhurst and Riverview Foundations of Chattanooga, this University of Furtwangen (Black Forest of Germany) Professor will now set his sights on the Tennessee River, which he plans to swim in its entirety in the Summer of 2017. The 652-mile long Tennessee stretches from Knoxville, Tennessee to Paducah, Kentucky where it joins the Ohio River. The first swim day will be July 27, 2017, starting at the Ijams Nature Center near Knoxville, Tennessee. This is the confluence of the French Broad and Holston Rivers, the official beginning of the Tennessee River. We anticipate that the swim will take about 30 days.

Fath’s endeavor will shed important light on the quality and health of the Tennessee River with the main goal of raising public awareness of water quality in the Tennessee River basin. An extensive team of researchers and students will accompany Fath, collecting daily water samples that will be analyzed for pharmaceuticals, pesticides, hormones, bacteria, and heavy metals – over 200 separate chemicals in all. Fath’s own pioneering technique will be used to detect micro-plastic particles suspended in water, to which numerous contaminants adhere. In preparation for micro-plastic sampling, Fath recently took a short raft trip down the Kinzig river by his home town in the German Black Forest. See the video below for that preparatory event:

 

Additionally, special instrumentation will be attached to the swimmer to permit the location of river sturgeon that were released recently by the Tennessee Aquarium. Fish and other aquatic life will be collected to gauge their health as well. Researchers from multiple institutions will collaborate on the most extensive, interdisciplinary water quality survey to have ever taken place on this river. Graduate and undergraduate students will participate in data collection and analysis, as well as in the organization of this complex endeavor.

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One of dozens of newspaper clippings from Germany showing Fath’s wetsuit used in the Rhine Swim on display in the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History and stating his intention to swim the Tennessee River.

The public will be able to track Fath’s daily progress via a website that will include analytical results.

In preparation for this historic event, Fath recently visited several sites on the Tennessee River and participated in a 10-mile swim race through the Tennessee River gorge outside of Chattanooga.

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Fath swimming the 10 mile Swim the Suck race on the Tennessee River in 2015. He finished second overall with a time of three hours and one minute.

 

For more information and to track the swimmer’s daily progress, visit our website at http://www.tenneswim.org and our Facebook site https://www.facebook.com/TenneSwim/.

To help support this important endeavor, please consider giving at the following Tenneswim crowdfunding site:

https://www.gofundme.com/swimming-the-tn-river-for-science

 

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