Because meltwater streams were thought to be relatively rare in Antarctica before this, they haven't been extensively studied in the past, according to glaciologist Douglas MacAyeal from the University of Chicago, who wasn't involved in the study.
The team, led by Jonathan Kingslake, a glaciologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, combed through both aerial photography and satellite imagery of Antarctica from when the first very first records started onward.
Antarctica's coasts are fringed with hundreds of floating platforms of ice called ice shelves, which buttress the massive glaciers behind them.
Scientists are also studying Greenland for clues as to how these streams might develop and affect sea level rises - between 2011 and 2014, about 70 percent of the 269 billion tons of ice and snow lost by Greenland to the oceans was due to meltwater.
Antarctica holds 90% of the world's ice and rapid ice melt and the associated collapse of ice sheets could have profound effects across the globe, including a steep rise in sea levels, but much remains unknown about the speed at which Antarctic ice is melting.
Iceberg shaped by melting, Drake Passage, Palmer Peninsula, Antarctica. They found water in places where it was thought to be impossible.
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Vast lakes and streams with the capacity to raise global sea levels by 58 metres are widespread on the surface of Antarctica, according to research published yesterday.
Much of Antarctica's ice is littered with seasonally flowing meltwater streams. Climate change is a real phenomenon, and its link to human activities is at this point well understood, but the details of the system and the ways in which its countless variables interact with one another are much less clear to us.
What they found surprised everyone. These systems had been around for decades and while some were stationary ponds, others were made up of streams that transported water as far as 75 miles and fed melt ponds, the largest of which, on the Amery Ice Shelf, reached 50 miles long. "And it's been [forming] since 1973 and we didn't really know about it". Once this happens, a feedback loop is triggered where the melting ice starts exposing more dark ice as the water flows through the snow.
An enormous waterfall gushes off the Nansen Ice Shelf. The Scott team noted that the "noise of running water from a lot of streams sounded odd after the usual Antarctic silence", and fell into several of the ponds and streams.
During the southern hemisphere summer, the melt-water is efficiently drained through sinkholes and a "roaring 400-foot-wide waterfall into the ocean", Bell said.
The different types of meltwater drainage systems could raise different possibilities for ice sheet stability.