Photo Friday: Lewis Pugh’s East Antarctic Supraglacial Swim

Lewis Pugh is a British-South African endurance swimmer and environmental diplomat. Pugh has regularly embarked on distance swims since 2006––including the North Pole, the English Channel, and a glacial lake on Mount Everest––to call attention to vulnerable ecosystems. His Wikipedia page describes him as the “Sir Edmund Hillary of swimming.”

Last week Pugh swam one kilometer of a supraglacial lake in East Antarctica near the Russian research station Novolazarevskaya. He did so while wearing his usual distance cold swim attire––a Speedo, swimcap, and goggles––in water that was just above 0°C (32°F). The swim took Pugh just over ten minutes to complete.

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

Pugh, a maritime lawyer by trade, became designated United Nations Patron of the Oceans in 2013. At the time it was just the second Patron for a specific cause recognized by the UN Enivronmental Programme. Pugh’s goal: to establish a Marine Protected Areas in the Southern Ocean––a highly sensitive and vital organ to Earth’s ocean and climate health.

The Pugh Foundation website cites a study by Professor Chris Stokes of Durham University, which found over 65,000 supraglacial lakes exist on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet alone, “indicating that surface melting is more widespread than previously thought and occurring much further inland and at much higher elevations than previously observed.”

“This will be the hardest swim of Lewis’s life,” his website reads. “Not only will there be freezing water, and a severe wind chill factor, but there is also the threat of the lake suddenly emptying out through a crack in the ice sheet.” A short video “A Swim In the Ice – #Antarctica2020” highlights Pugh’s mission and pioneering endeavor.