Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.
Kara Lavender Law, Ph.D. is a Research Professor of Oceanography at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
She will assist Benoît Lecomte and his team conduct scientific research as the swims across the Pacific Ocean on his 5,500-mile (8,851 km) transoceanic crossing.
Professor Law is part of a medical, scientific and research team like no other in the history of open water swimming (see here for the full support team). She talked about her involvement in this unprecedented undertaking:
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How did you first hear about Ben’s swim?
Kara Lavender Law, Ph.D.: My name was given to Kevin Carroll by a colleague, Erik van Sebille. I initially spoke with Kevin about Ben’s swim and the possibility for scientific collaboration.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Did he recruit you or did you ask to get involved?
Kara Lavender Law, Ph.D.: It was a discussion about the feasibility and usefulness of open ocean sampling to support our research program.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What is your specific role with The Longest Swim?
Kara Lavender Law, Ph.D.: I am a scientist researching plastic marine debris at Sea Education Association. Ben and his team will be collecting microplastics samples from the sea surface during their journey to support our research into the abundance and distribution of floating microplastics across the Pacific Ocean. They will be towing a plankton net off the ship while Ben swims.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What are your daily responsibilities as he continues with The Longest Swim?
Kara Lavender Law, Ph.D.: I don’t have specific daily responsibilities. The sampling and onboard analysis are very straightforward (albeit quite tedious).
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What do you hope to achieve with your research/role in The Longest Swim?
Kara Lavender Law, Ph.D.: We hope to attain measurements of plastic concentration in regions of the North Pacific that have been previously unsurveyed. Recent work indicates that some of the most important regions of the ocean to sample are those that may not have the highest concentrations of plastic. The data Ben’s team collects for us will help test that hypothesis.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Will you board the Rolano during any part of The Longest Swim (for any period of time)?
Kara Lavender Law, Ph.D.: No.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you do open water swimming yourself?
Kara Lavender Law, Ph.D.: Not unless you call a quick dip in the ocean on particularly hot days in coastal Maine where I live “open water swimming”…
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: From a research perspective, what are the unique opportunities presented by The Longest Swim if any?
Kara Lavender Law, Ph.D.: Because the open ocean is such a challenging place to access and sample due to the vast distances, unpredictable and challenging weather, and sheer cost of ship time, this is a very good opportunity for us to gain samples in places that we would otherwise not visit. It is unique because it turns out that Ben swims at roughly the same speed that we use to tow our surface plankton nets. As he described it, “It is if I was designed to sample plastic”. So it makes it that much easier for the crew to collect samples for us while Ben swims – and perhaps keeps them slightly entertained during otherwise long days.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: From a research perspective, are there logistical issues that must be overcome?
Kara Lavender Law, Ph.D.: As I said above, the logistics are really quite ideal for collecting our samples. It will be tedious work for the ship’s crew to process the net samples, but we are fortunate in that there are no complex archiving procedures or chemicals required.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Are there any new or unique technologies or scientific protocols or equipment that will be used in your research during/for The Longest Swim?
Kara Lavender Law, Ph.D.: The techniques and equipment that we use have been used for decades – the plankton net is a workhorse, a straightforward piece of equipment.
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