Won Sang Lee/Korea Polar Research Institute

“I think most polar scientists have considered water moving across the surface of Antarctica to be extremely rare. But we found a lot of it, over very large areas.”

April 25, 2017

There’s running water in the Antarctic — and there has been for at least decades.

Scientists published the results of the first-ever hydrological survey of Antarctica last week. The world’s least-mapped area revealed over 700 streams, ponds, and waterfalls, along with a meltwater drainage system that covers the entire continent.

Maximilian Buzun / Alamy

“I think most polar scientists have considered water moving across the surface of Antarctica to be extremely rare,” Jonathan Kingslake, a glaciologist at Columbia University and one of the authors of the paper, said in a statement. “But we found a lot of it, over very large areas.”

One of the most impressive discoveries is a large waterfall that flows with at least the power of the Potomac River during warmer, summer months. In the colder months, the waterfall shuts down completely. Some of the ponds that scientists discovered reach up to 50 miles long.

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The implications of the study could have long-lasting impact on how we understand and model the world’s sea-level rise. Until now, scientists had assumed that if there was such large meltwater ponds in the Antarctic, they would rapidly dissolve existing ice shelves. However the existence of these waterfalls and streams could prove otherwise.

12 Facts You Didn't Know About Antarctica

Scientists still have not yet determined whether or not the discovery of running water in the Antarctic will increase or decrease predictions in sea-level rise — however estimates through 2100 unlikely to change, according to a report in The Atlantic.

Courtesy of NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio; Landsat 7 Project Science Office; MODIS Rapid Response Team

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Antarctica was first surveyed only in 1957. Data and imagery on the southernmost continent remains incomplete.

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