TenneSwimmer en route to Chattanooga

Dr. Andreas Fath, a world-record-holding endurance swimmer and scientist, makes his first dive into the Tennessee River near Knoxville for his historic swim. (Screen grab courtesy Tennessee Aquarium)

UPDATE: Dr. Fath made it to Chattanooga. Watch our follow-up here.


Dr. Andreas Fath, a world-record-holding endurance swimmer and scientist, is on his way toward Chattanooga via the Tennessee River. Not by boat however, Dr. Fath intends to swim the length of the entire Tennessee River from near Knoxville all the way to the Ohio River., approximately 652 miles.

Dr. Fath began his aquatic journey Thursday. This isn’t the first time the professor of Medical and Life Sciences at Furtwangen University in Germany has taken on a river. In 2014 he broke the world record for speed swimming the Rhine River from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea.

You can track the progress of his swim here.

Dubbed TenneSwim, or "a swim for science," Dr. Fath said he will conduct daily analyses along his route to determine how water quality in the Tennessee River compares to the Rhine. Other testing will be done after the swim. Specifically, Dr. Fath said he will be looking at chemicals, pharmaceuticals and microplastics.

Fath already has one prediction of what he’ll find in the American river.

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

He will also use a technique he pioneered to detect microplastics suspended in the water. These plastic fragments, less than 5 mm in size, are either manufactured at this size or created when larger plastic items break down into smaller pieces. Their small size enables microplastic to enter the food chain at the lowest levels.

In 2014, Fath and his team found large quantities of microplastics in the Rhine. Fath estimates that, every year, the Rhine carries eight tons of plastic all the way to the North Sea – on its surface alone. This leaves many wondering what levels of contaminants and microplastics Fath will discover in the Tennessee River.

Experts with the Tennessee Aquarium said the data collected will increase knowledge about the quality and health of the Tennessee River, as well as raise public awareness of water quality in the Tennessee River basin. This project will be the most extensive interdisciplinary water quality survey ever conducted of North America’s most biologically diverse river.

At 652 miles, the Tennessee River is 112 miles shorter than the Rhine, but its significantly slower current will pose an even greater challenge for Fath. If completed as planned on Aug. 26, his swim will break another world record.

U.S. partner organizations include 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 the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Dr. Fath expects to swim into downtown Chattanooga on Friday, Aug. 4. However of Thursday night (Aug. 3) he will do a public presentation at the Tennessee Aquarium at 7 pm.

TenneSwim is presented with financial support from The Lyndhurst Foundation, Riverview Foundation, PerkinElmer, Sweetwater Brewing Company and a host of German sponsors. Anybody who would like to support the project financially can do so via the web-based Crowdfunding platform “GoFundMe.”