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This Man Swam Through the Antarctic to Show the Effects of Climate Change

Lewis Pugh wore nothing but a swim cap, goggles, and a speedo as he swam in 32°F water that flowed under an ice sheet.

A man swam beneath the Antarctic ice sheet to show the rapid changes brought on by the climate crisis. 

Lewis Pugh wore nothing but a swim cap, goggles, and a speedo as he swam in 32°F degree water that flowed under an ice sheet. Winds as low as 5°F  whipped around him as he made his way through the freezing water. 

“I have never, ever, ever seen anything as beautiful as this in my whole life, ever,” Pugh said. 

Pugh, a UN Patron of the Oceans and endurance swimmer, is the first person to complete a long-distance swim in every ocean. In the hopes of establishing several Marine Protected Areas in Antarctica and show the rapid changes in the region firsthand, he swam under a freezing ice sheet. 

“It started with this turquoise blue and then it went into this dark royal blue and then you come out and then it's indigo and then it's violet and you see right up there and the beautiful stalactites from the roof,” said Pugh. 

Despite the beauty, the dangers he faced were very real. 

“The water had risen in that tunnel and as I went in, I realized it was not possible to swim-crawl because you're turning and turning around all these corners and it's very, very narrow,” he said. “The ice can suddenly crack and the river can drain down a moulin at a terrifying speed to the bedrock hundreds of metres below. That meltwater then lubricates the bedrock, which causes the ice-sheet to become unstable; huge chunks then break loose and slide into the sea”

According to a study from the University of Durham, scientists found more than 65,000 lakes atop the Antarctic ice sheet—a sign of the vast melting taking place. 

“[The] swim is only one part of this campaign,” said Pugh. “The most important part is the part afterwards, it's coming to Moscow, going to Washington, going to London, going to Beijing and sitting down with world leaders and saying to them, this place needs protecting, it needs protecting because all our futures depend on it. And sometimes you get pushed away, but you've got to go back, and you've got to keep asking and keep asking and you've got to have that resilience.”