Lewis Pugh Swam Under the Antarctic Ice Sheet to Highlight the Effects of Climate Change

Melting Antarctica - 14 Jan 2019 This 2016 photo provided by NASA shows the Getz Ice Shelf from 2016's Operation Icebridge in Antarctica. According to a new study published, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Antarctica is melting more than six times faster than it did in the 1980s 14 Jan 2019
Jeremy Harbeck/AP/Shutterstock

It was a milestone that Lewis Pugh likely never wanted to reach: The longtime endurance swimmer went to Antarctica in late January and became the first person to swim in a supraglacial lake, according to CNN. Pugh has previously done swims in the Arctic to bring attention to global warming and climate change, but he hadn’t gone to Antarctica to do it before.

A supraglacial lake is defined as “any pond of liquid water on the top of a glacier” and is usually formed from melting ice. A recent Scientific Reports study from 2019 found that there are over 65,000 of them on the ice sheet of East Antarctica; that study was what inspired Pugh to make his swim in Antarctica.

“(The swim) was terrifying for a number of reasons,” Pugh said to CNN after his swim. “First, the water is so cold for a swimmer. It was zero degrees centigrade, just above freezing. But also, it illustrates very, very graphically what is happening in East Antarctica.”

Pugh swam for ten minutes in the water, which had a temperature of just above 32-degrees, and he wore only his swimming suit, a cap, and goggles, the gear that follows the official Channel Swimming Rules. Pugh swam through melted tunnels on the glacier and was amazed with what he saw—for good and bad.

Pugh called it the “most beautiful place I’ve seen in the whole world,” but it also alarmed him that he was even able to swim there.

“The swim was the accumulation of 33 years of training in order to swim 10 minutes and 17 seconds down that river,” Pugh said to the BBC. “I swam here today as we are in a climate emergency. We need immediate action from all nations to protect our planet.”

Lewis Pugh attends a news conference in Moscow., Russian Federation - 27 Jan 2020 Lewis Pugh, Patron of the Oceans of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), ocean advocate and endurance swimmer, attends a news conference titled 'The 200 years of the discovery of Antarctica. Creating Marine Reserves in the Southern Ocean' in Moscow, Russia, 27 January 2020. The news conference is devoted to Lewis Pugh's first ever swim in the Southern Ocean (also known as the Antarctic Ocean), dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica, and the project of creating marine Antarctic natural reserves. Lewis Pugh, the extreme from the United Kingdom, already made swim in both the Arctic and Antarctica on some occasions. Now he intends to swim at least a kilometer in one of the thousands of lakes whichhave appeared in recent years on the surface of Antarctica 's glaciers during the season of active ice melting. 27 Jan 2020
Lewis Pugh, ocean advocate and endurance swimmer, attends a news conference devoted to Pugh’s first ever swim in the Southern Ocean in Antarctica. YURI KOCHETKOV/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Following his milestone swim, Pugh said that he hopes his journey will bring more attention to climate change around the world and spark countries and organizations into action. Pugh mentioned 2020’s
UN Climate Change Conference, which is scheduled for November in Glasgow.

“I’m saying to world leaders please, come to Glasgow, come there with a lot of ambition,” Pugh said. “Step up, or step aside, because we simply don’t have any more time on our hands.”

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