A team of researchers from 13 scientific institutions including NASA and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will conduct studies on 8 different subjects during The Longest Swim. From plastic pollution to space exploration, this adventure will be a unique opportunity to collect data and learn more about the oceans and human body in extreme conditions.


The notion that plastic pollution in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch looks similar to a landfill – mainly large pieces of debris like bottles or trash bags – is incorrect. Instead most marine plastic in this area of the ocean has been broken down by physical, chemical, and biological processes to particles smaller than 1 millimeter. At this size it is much easier for these plastics to be ingested by marine organisms, where it can then be slowly accumulated in their tissues over time.

North Pacific Gyre

In oceanography, a gyre is a large system of rotating currents. The North Pacific Gyre is one of five major oceanic gyres and it covers most of the northern Pacific. Trash, chemical pollutants, and other debris are trapped by the four currents that make up this gyre, leading to the formation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Neuston Net

A type of marine sampling net commonly used to collect neuston, small organisms that live right at the water’s surface. It has a wide, rectangular mouth with a collection jar at the end of a mesh net that can exceed 10 feet in length. A boat will tow the neuston net at a moderate rate of speed before pulling it back on board, replacing more labor intensive collection methods like hand nets. For The Longest Swim, our crew will use a neuston net to collect any microplastics floating on or just below the ocean’s surface.

cesium-134 and cesium-137

These two radioactive isotopes were the most common contaminants released during the Fukushima disaster. Cesium-134 decays relatively quickly, so any that’s found in the environment must have come from a recent source: Fukushima. Both isotopes were also released in equal amounts, so once scientists know how much cesium-134 is in the ocean, they can calculate how much cesium-137 in a sample came from Fukushima.


A metabolic process in primary producers like plants, algae, and some bacteria that converts carbon dioxide and light energy from the sun into sugar and oxygen. The oxygen molecules are released as a “waste” product for the photosynthesizers, but are actually essential to the survival of humans and other respiratory species.


Conductivity measures water’s capability of passing an electrical flow. Because dissolved ions like the salts found in ocean water increase both salinity and conductivity, these two parameters are mathematically related. Instead of measuring salinity directly, oceanographers use a tool that detects a conductivity value which is then converted into salinity.

Gravitational Gradient

Gravity gradients measure the changes in gravitational acceleration (or the force on an object due to gravity) that occur over small distances. For example, the gravitational force acting on the head of a person standing up has a small, but measurable, difference from the force acting on their feet! In total, three gravity gradients are at work on us here on Earth: head-to-foot, front-to-back, and side-to-side.


Often referred to as a “cardiac echo” or “echo”, an echocardiogram is simply a sonogram of the heart. It bounces sound waves with frequencies higher than human hearing can detect off of tissue to produce pictures of internal structures. Echocardiograms can provide doctors with information about the size and structure of a patient’s heart, as well as detect deterioration of the heart muscle that could lead to heart failure. This technique is non-invasive, which means you don’t break the skin to perform it.

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