Antarctica is full of hidden treasures. For many years, scientists have studied its ice and the ground beneath it in hopes of understanding the cryptic and mysterious geology of the southernmost continent.

Recent discoveries have revealed Antarctica is volcanic. However, scientists still debate as to what is causing the unusual amount of volcanic activity under an area hidden underneath massive ice sheets. Finally, NASA has an answer, so it seems.

An area called Marie Byrd Land, located in the western part of Antarctica, is a bit different from the rest of its region. The ice sheet thinning here is more drastic than anywhere else on the continent.

Research done by NASA claims the hot mantle plume below West Antarctica is the reason for behind Antarctica’s mounting ice loss.

A mantle plume is an area where geothermal heat generated deep within the planet pushes closer to the surface through cracks and other gaps in the Earth’s surface. NASA says the mantle plume is responsible for huge subsurface lakes and water flow underneath the ice sheet. Because the geothermal activity is not constant, the water comes and goes, filling and draining, which affects the height of the ice sheet far above it.

However, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was able to solve the mystery by programming a digital model of the mantle plume based on the information collected from the geothermal activity in the Yellowstone region. Using the data from Yellowstone, NASA was able to show that underground heat sources were likely responsible for the changes in the ice sheet visible on the surface.

BGR reports:

“The research will help inform further study of the area and potentially aid in predictions of future changes in the Antarctic landscape. Scientists regularly study the ice loss of Antarctica as a potential indicator of how global warming is affecting sea levels both now and into the future, but it seems in this particular case the Earth is playing games with Antarctica all on its own.”