Could Antarctica have hit the jackpot in the sparkling and expensive type of ice? It might just be diamonds – scientists discovered kimberlight rocks which have been known to contain diamonds in the frozen Prince Charles mountains.
“Kimberlites are a volumetrically minor component of the Earth’s volcanic record, but are very important as the major commercial source of diamonds and as the deepest samples of the Earth’s mantle,” scientists said in a research paper published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Communications.
Diamonds are formed through carbon and pressure in the earth’s inner mantle, approximately 140 to 190 kilometers deep – and through the heat and pressure found there. Kimberlites are a common rock found in most of the earth’s crust, and they are transporters of diamonds brought to the surface by volcanic activity and eruptions.
This is the first evidence of Kimberlite in Antarctica.
Kimberlite is a rare type of rock named after the South African town of Kimberley, famed for a late 19th century diamond rush.
However, there has been a 50 year ban put in place against mining, initiated in 1991 for environmental reasons under the Antarctic Treaty in an effort to preserve the continent for scientific research and wildlife, from penguins to seals. Unless this ban can be lifted, there won’t be any diamond mining.
The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, explicitly bans any extraction activity relating to mineral resources, except for scientific purposes.
The geological team that made the discovery found three samples of Group One kimberlites on the slopes of Mount Meredith in the Prince Charles Mountains.
“The samples are texturally, mineralogically and geochemically typical of Group I kimberlites from more classical localities,” they noted in the research paper. Group One kimberlites are the most likely to carry diamonds.
Dr. Teal Riley, a survey geologist with the British Antarctic Survey said “Even amongst the Group One kimberlites, only 10% or so are economically viable, so it’s still a big step to extrapolate this latest finding to any diamond mining activity in Antarctica,” Riley was quoted by the BBC.
Also, the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty of 1991 prohibits “any activity relating to mineral resources, other than scientific research.”
Mining after the ban in 2041 could be possible, but the technology might not be available to dig into frozen tundra, nor may the ban ever be lifted. “We do not know what the Treaty Parties’ views will be on mining after 2041 or what technologies might exist that could make extraction of Antarctic minerals economically viable,” said Dr. Kevin Hughes from the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.
Image via Wikimedia Commons