Sewanee Water

652 – Mile Swim for Science on the Tennessee River is Completed and a New World Record is Set


On August 29th, 2017, Andreas Fath completed a swim of the entire 652 – mile length of the Tennessee River. The 34 – day swim sets a new world record for the river and is part of a larger scientific endeavor called the “Tenneswim”, which seeks to raise awareness of the importance of water quality on the Tennessee River watershed. Fath, a professor at the University of Furtwangen, Germany, teamed up with project director Dr. Martin Knoll of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee to analyze the waters of the river for over 600 chemicals and a host of other parameters. This effort will provide an unprecedented look at the health of the Tennessee River.

Fath swam an average of about 20 miles per day, with a support crew of anywhere from 9 to 12 people taking care of the sampling, providing food and water to the swimmer, steering him in the right direction, and keeping other boats and jet skis away. An 18 – foot pontoon boat served as the science platform and support vessel, while a sit-atop kayak was used to guide the swimmer. Get a sense for the daily swim/sample routine by watching the video below (link will take you to Youtube).

Results from water samples will become available during the fall of 2017 and will be published on the website. These include heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and micro-plastics. Initial results of dissolved oxygen, phosphates, nitrates, chemical oxygen demand and pH are mostly in the very good range. Visual inspection of the river further gives the initial impression of a healthy, clean waterway.

Major sponsors of the Tenneswim are the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Lyndhurst and Riverview Foundations of Chattanooga, and Sweetwater Brewing of Atlanta. Significant support was provided by the Nature Conservancy, the Tennessee Aquarium, Perkin-Elmer Laboratories, Ijams Nature Center of Knoxville, the River Discovery Center of Paducah, the University of the South and the University of Furtwangen.