Antarctica holds enough frozen water to push up global oceans by tens of metres.
Meltwater pooling on the surface of ice shelves can suddenly drain below the surface, fracturing the ice with heat and pressure, studies have shown.
"This is widespread now, and has been going on for decades," said lead author Jonathan Kingslake, a glaciologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
"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," he said in a statement.
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