By Alison Fox
February 05, 2020
Climate Activist and Swimmer, Lewis Pugh, swims glacier lake in East Antarctica
Credit: Kelvin Trautman

Endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh submerged himself in the freezing waters of Antarctica and swam underneath the ice sheet — a feat he says he was only able to accomplish because of climate change.

Pugh, 50, is known for raising awareness for climate change by undertaking daring swims in Arctic waters, CNN reported. But on Jan. 23, he took it one step further and became the first person to swim in a supraglacial lake, or a lake formed by ice melting on top of a glacier.

“Swimming under the Antarctic ice sheet is the most beautiful and terrifying swim I’ve ever done,” Pugh, who made his way through a tunnel of blue water accented by icy spikes, wrote on Instagram. “Every shade of blue, and then nearly complete darkness. Mid-way I heard an almighty boom above me, and thought my time had come. Luckily, it was just the ice shifting.”

Climate Activist and Swimmer, Lewis Pugh, swims glacier lake in East Antarctica
Credit: Kelvin Trautman

Pugh told CNN that he shouldn’t have been able to swim in such an environment, but due to cracks in the glacier, it was possible. He also told the network his motivation for the chilly swim came from a Sept. 2019 study, which found more than 65,000 supraglacial lakes on East Antarctica's ice sheet.

Alongside an Instagram photo showing a bird's-eye view of stunningly blue water snaking through snow and ice, Pugh wrote, “I swam here in East Antarctica to bring you this message: Having witnessed the rapid melting in this region, I have no doubt whatsoever that we are now facing a climate emergency.”

He added in a separate post: “It may seem shocking that someone would be able to swim in a river that runs under the ice sheet, but that’s the point. Antarctica is melting. Scientists have discovered over 65,000 supraglacial lakes in this region alone.”

Pugh first trained in a smaller river on the continent before hiking to the site of his swim with a group of French mountaineers. While he was submerged in the water, which was just above 32 degrees Fahrenheit, Pugh told the BBC that he could see meltwater everywhere.

The swim took just over 10 minutes.

Following his swim, he was helped to safety by senator Slava Fetisov from Russia, according to the swimmer.