Swimming across the Pacific, a sporting feat and many scientific answers

Nearly twenty years after swimming across the Atlantic, Ben Lecomte, a 49-year-old Franco-American swimmer, is about to swim across the Pacific. Beyond sporting prowess, a multitude of scientific research will be carried out.

 » I’m not an Olympic swimmer, I’m an adventurer who likes to swim This is how Ben Lecomte, 49, lawyer born in France and naturalized American, describes himself. In 1998, he had swum across the Atlantic Ocean, an exhausting journey that had prompted him to declare  » never again at its end. Almost 20 years later, the adventurer is getting ready to set the stage again over a distance longer by a third!

Indeed, at the end of May, Ben Lecomte will swim out of Tokyo (Japan) to join San Francisco (United States). This crossing will last about six months for eight hours of swimming per day. He will be accompanied by the « Discoverer », a twenty-meter long and self-sufficient support sailboat.  » No one has ever tried to go this far, this slowly. There are very few “firsts” left in the world and this expedition is one of the few chances to be one of them. says James Scott, one of six crew members in the project’s press kit titled « The Longest Swim. »

This Monday, March 20, a crowdfunding campaign began on the Kickstarter platform to raise the missing $52,800 for food and communication equipment.

Beyond the exceptional sporting performance, this journey across the Pacific is an opportunity to bear witness to the environmental state of the oceans and to answer a few scientific questions.  » This journey is also an opportunity to communicate on the real state of the oceans since onboard cameras will allow us to follow live what we can see of the state of the sea, to show that there are more plastic and less marine life “, explains Ben Lecompte.

The swimmer has been preparing for this expedition for four years, which has allowed researchers from twelve scientific institutions, including NASA, to take an interest in the project and organize studies. This is particularly the case of Dr Benjamin Levine, from the University of Texas, who will be interested in the physiological limits of the human body by monitoring the heart of the swimmer thanks to a remote echocardiogram monitor used by NASA to monitor astronauts from the International Space Station.

Eight hours a day swimming is also eight hours a day without gravity. Thus, researchers from the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine (IEEM) will seek to find out if exercise compensates for the loss of bone mass that we see in astronauts and if they also suffer from vision.

On the side of Ken Buesseler, radio-chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (California), it is radioactivity that we will be interested in. The swimmer will thus wear a radiation measuring device on the ankle in order to measure the radioactivity emitted by the Fukushima disaster throughout the journey.

Another study, the state of the ocean. Samples of microplastics present on the surface of the oceans and of phytoplankton will be taken by the members of the boat’s crew. The University of Montana will be responsible for measuring the pH of marine waters throughout the trip to find out the current state of acidification in the Pacific.

In total, more than a thousand samples and data will be collected every day to be either stored on board or sent by satellite transmission to the various scientific institutes supporting this superb project.

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