This Endurance Swimmer Swam Under the Antarctic Ice Sheet to Highlight the Effects of Climate Change


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, 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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