Climate activist swims under Antarctic ice sheet, reveals how fast glaciers are melting

On January 23, Lewis Pugh created history by becoming the first person to swim in a supraglacial lake

Scientists are now paying close attention to the melting ice sheets of Antarctica that is one of major reasons behind rising sea levels globally. On January 23, Lewis Pugh, who is known for swimming in the Arctic waters to raise awareness about climate change, took a plunge below the Antarctic ice sheet, through melting tunnels.

The 50-year-old swimmer said he was extremely terrified when he swam into the water of East Antarctica, wearing only his swim briefs, a swim cap and goggles. However, Pugh, who created history by becoming the first person to swim in a supraglacial lake, said it was the most beautiful swim he's ever done. A supraglacial lake is a water body that forms on top of a glacier due to melting of ice.

Antarctica's fragile ice
Antarctica Reuters

In an interview with CNN, Pugh said: "(The swim) was terrifying for a number of reasons. First, the water is so cold for a swimmer. It was 0 degrees centigrade, just above freezing. But also, it illustrates very very graphically what is happening in East Antarctica."

He said the cracks in the glacier made it possible for him to swim. A September 2019 study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, that discovered more than 65,000 supraglacial lakes on East Antarctica's ice sheet, motivated Pugh to take a swim below the ice sheet.

Climate change negotiations in Glasgow

The study explained how supraglacial water can pour into cracks leading to fractures in glaciers. This was of extreme concern as it is speeding up the glacier melting and rise in sea levels. This inspired Pugh and he wants that immediate actions are taken at this November's climate change negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland. This was the reason he chose to go swimming in an area that he calls "the front line of climate change".

Pugh said: "I'm saying to world leaders please, come to Glasgow, come there with a lot of ambition. Step up, or step aside, because we simply don't have any more time on our hands." He also approached the Kremlin with his message and tried to persuade the government of Russia to establish a marine protected area in East Antarctica to protect it from overfishing.