A new NASA study adds weight to the theory that a heat source exists under West Antarctica.
Researchers have uncovered evidence of a geothermal heat source called a mantle plume lying deep below Antarctica's Marie Byrd Land, NASA said.
Mantle plumes are narrow upwellings of hot rock that rise up from the earth's mantle and spread out like mushroom caps under the crust, causing it to bulge upward.
Researchers used a model to calculate the flux of energy from at 150 miliwatts, only 50 milliwatts less than the average heat flux under Yellowstone.
According to the researchers, the heat source could explain the melting that creates rivers and lakes under the West Antarctic ice sheet. It is, however, not a new or increasing threat.
However global weather changes and rising sea levels push warm water closer to the ice and cause it to collapse much as it did 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.
The effect was first proposed 30 years ago, seems especially strong in West Antarctica, which has the most dramatic ice sheet losses that contribute to sea-level rise. However, not many scientists believed this was happening, at least initially.
"I thought it was crazy," Hélène Seroussi, a climatologist and ice researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a press release. "I didn't see how we could have that amount of heat and still have ice on top of it."
The industrial revolution has caused the North and South Poles to warm at a rate many times faster than other locations on earth. In Antarctica, this melting ice sheets from above and pooling water on top of them probably helped carve off Delaware-size icebergs.
However, a warming climate does not fully explain Antarctica's mounting ice loss, and in recent years, researchers have looked deeper for an answer.
Following one line of research scientists have discovered, documented, and even drilled into and explored a vast system of sub-glacial lakes and rivers.
The water helps lubricate the movement of ice sheets from the snowy mountains to the sea and certain parts of the Southern Continent, where there's a lot of sub-glacial water - are moving and melting faster than others.