Dr. Andreas Fath, world record-holding endurance swimmer and medical and life sciences professor at Furtwangen University in Germany, will swim the entirety of the Tennessee River. (Photo: Contributed)

German professor Dr. Andreas Fath is starting his second endurance swim for science in the Tennessee River today. 

Fath broke the world record for speed swimming from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea in 2014, and for his second swim for science, he’s going to swim the entire Tennessee River. Along the way, he will conduct daily analyses along his route to determine how water quality in the Tennessee River compares to the Rhine.

About the Tennessee River

The Tennessee River and its many tributaries are home to more than 230 fishes, more than 100 freshwater mussels and
more than 70 crayfishes.

Its watershed also contains more than 150 turtle and more than 50 salamander species, including the giant hellbender salamander.

Many communities rely on the Tennessee River for drinking water, including Knoxville, Chattanooga and Huntsville, Alabama.

Source: Tennessee Aquarium 

This project, dubbed TenneSwim, will be the most extensive interdisciplinary water-quality survey ever conducted of North America’s most biologically diverse river, according to a news release. 

“Water pollution is not only a result of the industrial use of water but also a result of unconscious consumer behavior,” Fath said in a prepared statement. “TenneSwim and the outcome will make people aware of their influence. Small changes in their behavior will have a big, positive effect on water quality.”

Fath will arrive in Chattanooga Aug. 4. 

At 652 miles, the Tennessee River is 112 miles shorter than the Rhine, but its significantly slower current will pose a greater challenge for Fath, according to a news release.

If completed as planned, his swim will break another world record.

In 2014, Fath and his team of scientists analyzed the Rhine for more than 600 substances and found that concentrations of persistent pollutants increased as they moved downstream.

During TenneSwim, Fath and his team will sample for common water-quality indicators such as temperature, nitrates and phosphates, as well as pharmaceuticals, hormones, pesticides, bacteria and heavy metals.

Fath already has one prediction of what he’ll find in the Tennessee River. 

“The use of lawn fertilizers is much more common in the United States than in Germany,” Fath said. “That is why I expect significantly higher concentrations of phosphate in the Tennessee River.”

Fast facts 

-A standard Olympic pool is 50 meters long. Swimming one length is considered one lap.

-There are 1,609.34 meters in a mile, so it takes 32.18 laps to equal 1 mile.

– Fath will swim the entire 652-mile length of the Tennessee River in about one month. That’s the equivalent of 20,985 laps in an Olympic-sized pool.

-In an average training week, Michael Phelps swims 49.7 miles. Fath will average more than 140 miles each week during TenneSwim.

Source: Tennessee Aquarium 

During TenneSwim, Fath will use a technique he pioneered to detect microplastics suspended in the water. 

These plastic fragments, less than 5 millimeters in size, are either manufactured at this size or created when larger plastic items break down into smaller pieces. 

Their small size enables microplastics to enter the food chain at the lowest levels. 

Microplastic has been found in the digestive tracts of both freshwater and marine animals.

TenneSwim begins July 27 at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville and is organized in partnership with the University of the South, the Tennessee Aquarium, The Nature Conservancy, the University of Georgia River Basin Center, Ijams Nature Center, the River Discovery Center of Paducah, Tennessee State Parks and Tennessee Valley Authority.

Much more information is available here.

People can follow Fath in real time via GPS tracking at TenneSwim.org