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‘World’s coldest swim’ complete

Lewis Pugh completes Greenland swim to draw attention to our melting planet
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
‘World’s coldest swim’ complete

Main image: © Olle Nordell

Lewis Pugh, the UN Patron of the Oceans, has become the first person to complete a multi-day swim in the Polar regions.

Lewis completed the 7.8km swim in Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord – the most challenging of his career – in 14 sessions over 12 days. 
The mouth of the Ilulissat Icefjord measures 7.8 km, and is fed by the world’s fastest-moving glacier. The Ilulissat Glacier calves an average of 30 cubic kilometres of ice into the sea every year and produces 10% of all Greenland’s icebergs
The swim, in water temperatures ranging from 0-3 degrees C, was hampered by icebergs and brash ice when the mouth of the fjord became clogged with ice.

The goal was to highlight the rapid melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet as a result of the climate crisis. Lewis is also calling for 30% of the world’s oceans to be protected by 2030.

‘I am deeply alarmed by what I have seen. Last month was the first time in recorded history that it rained at the highest point on the Greenland ice sheet. The melt is accelerating. I watched water gushing off the ice sheet at a location that, only a few years ago, was covered in hundreds of meters of ice. I also witnessed shocking quantities of ice being pushed through my swim route and far out to sea.’


Endurance swimmer and UN Patron of the Oceans

‘No ice, no life

If the entire Greenland Ice Sheet were to melt, it would lead to a global sea level rise of over seven metres.

Any sea-level rise will be devastating; one billion people live less than 10 metres above sea level.

Just a one-metre rise would drown major cities like London, Tokyo and New York.

The Polar regions are indicative of the speed and severity of global warming; they are experiencing the changes faster than any other region on Earth.

This is why Lewis felt the region was the best place in the world to demonstrate the dramatic impact of the climate crisis.

‘The reason why I did this swim is clear: we rely on ice for our survival. Ice keeps our planet cool enough for us to live. But we are losing it fast. No ice, no life.
‘We have seen so many natural disasters this year – from wildfires in Greece, to floods in Germany, extreme snowstorms in Texas. But I want also everyone to be aware of what is happening here in the Arctic.’

Endurance swimmer and UN Patron of the Oceans

A pioneering swim

Lewis has become the first person to complete a multi-day swim in the Polar regions; the effects of such a swim have never been measured. During each swim Pugh’s body temperature was monitored live because of the risk of hypothermia.

The water and weather conditions during the swim were challenging. A number of large, grounded icebergs that were stemming the flow of ice into the mouth came apart during the swim, causing kilometres of ice to rush through the mouth of the fjord and far out to sea. This event was so severe that ice blocked the Ilulissat harbour for several days.

‘What happens in the Arctic will determine the future of our planet and everything that lives on it. The Polar regions are feeling the effects of the climate crisis more dramatically than anywhere else on Earth.

‘If temperatures continue to increase, the polar ice caps will melt and sea levels will rise. Unless we take urgent action to decrease global temperatures by seriously lowering our global CO2 emissions, low-lying islands and coastal cities will, quite literally, drown.

‘The devastation of the natural world will affect every single person, every future generation and every creature, great and small, on this planet.’

Endurance swimmer and UN Patron of the Oceans

Lewis Pugh at COP26

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) make the oceans more resilient to climate change. As the UN Patron of the Oceans, Lewis is calling for 30% of the world’s oceans to be protected by 2030 at the UN Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this November.

There, he will stress to world leaders the role healthy oceans play in mitigating climate change. He will urge them to move beyond long-term commitments toward immediate action.

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