Lewis Pugh Swims Amid The Melting Ilulissat Glacier

Lewis Pugh Swims Amid The Melting Ilulissat Glacier

Lewis Pugh OIG completed his stage swim in Greenland in order to highlight a melting Planet Earth on September 5th. The UN Patron of the Oceans swam a total of 7.8 km in a multi-stage ice swim in Ilulissat Icefjord within the Arctic Circle.

It was an unprecedented ice swim where he swam every day in water temperatures between 0°C and 3°C (32°F – 37.4°F) during the 14 stages over 12 days.

Lewis Pugh after one of his 14 sessions, Photo © Olle Nordel

Pugh’s course of the Ilulissat Icefjord is fed by the world’s fastest moving glacier that is moving at an average of 40 meters per day.

The Ilulissat Glacier

The Ilulissat Glacier where Pugh completed his stage swim is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It moves at an average of 40 meters per day in summer. The glacier calves an average of 30 cubic km of ice into the sea every year. It produces 10% of all Greenland’s icebergs, some over 1 km tall and including, legend has it, the one that sank the Titanic.

If the entire Greenland Ice Sheet were to melt, it would lead to a global sea level rise of over seven meters. Any sea-level rise will be devastating to humanity because one billion people live less than 10 meters above sea level. It is said that a 1-meter rise will 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, which is why Pugh felt that this was the best place in the world to demonstrate the dramatic impact of the Climate Crisis. He said, “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. 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.”

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.”

Lewis Pugh, Photo © Olle Nordel
Photo © Olle Nordel
Photo © Olle Nordel
Photo © Olle Nordel
Photo © Olle Nordel

Marine Protected Areas and COP26

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) make the oceans more resilient to climate change. As the UN Patron of the Oceans, Pugh 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.


This swim has been made possible with the support of lead sponsors Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), one of Europe’s largest asset managers and a major global investor who has consistently received A+ rankings for responsible investment strategy and active ownership by the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI).

Michelle Scrimgeour, CEO, LGIM, and Co-Chair of the COP26 Business Leaders Group, commented, “Huge congratulations to Lewis for completing what has been an extraordinary challenge, navigating icebergs and brash ice in near-freezing waters. He has shown incredible resilience and determination throughout the challenge – truly inspirational. In undertaking this endurance swim and through his campaigning, Lewis shares a common purpose with LGIM: our goal is to create a better future through responsible investing. Lewis has witnessed first-hand the damaging effects of climate change and in Greenland he has highlighted once again the precarious state of our natural world. Climate change is one of the biggest systemic issues facing us today. Like Lewis, we understand the crucial role of international leadership and collaboration to the decarbonisation initiative and I look forward to seeing Lewis at COP26 in November as we continue these conversations… Inaction is not an option.”

Photo © Olle Nordel
Photo © Olle Nordel

In 2018, Pugh swam the length of the English Channel from Land’s End to Dover calling for the UK to protect 30% of oceans by 2030. After the swim the UK become the first major economy to commit to this target, and urged other nations to do the same. To date 86 nations have joined this call, making it the largest conservation drive in history. For more information on Pugh’s 30×30 campaign, visit here: https://lewispughfoundation.org/30×30. For more details on the Greenland 2021 expedition, visit www.lewispughfoundation.org

For more information, visit the Lewis Pugh Foundation here.

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Steven Munatones