Talk about ice: scientists say that frozen Antarctica could also be home to untapped, previously undiscovered diamond deposits. No, they haven't actually found the precious carbon crystals yet, but they have found something that indicates they may be there.
The news comes to us via research published this week in the journal Nature Communications, which details how authors from several Australian and German universities have uncovered kimberlites in Antarctica's Prince Charles Mountains. Kimberlites are volcanic rocks that are most famous for containing diamonds. Volcanic eruptions push kimberlite up from the Earth's mantle into the crust, forming "pipes" which are often indicators of the presence of diamonds. (Kimberlites are named after the South African town of Kimberly, where an infamous diamond rush was kicked off by the discovery of a massive diamond in 1871.)
Although kimberlites have been found on all other continents, this is the first kimberlite discovery in Antarctica. As for what might be found next, "It would be very surprising if there weren't diamonds in these kimberlites," lead researcher Greg Yaxley from Australian National University told Reuters. Yaxley also told the Financial Times that the discovery wasn't much of a surprise and that his team was "lucky enough to be the first ones to find one."
The particular rocks unearthed in Antarctica are called Group One kimberlites, making them similar to those found in other diamond-heavy areas, and are estimated to be many millions of years old. "The fact they are reporting Group One kimberlites is an important one as diamonds are more likely to be found in this style of kimberlite eruption," Teal Riley, a survey geologist with the British Antarctic Survey who was not affiliated with the study, told the BBC.
So does this discovery mean diamond mining is about to start in coldest place on Earth? Not so fast. For one thing, it would be an incredibly difficult thing to do. "I don't think it's terribly practical that anyone could actually explore successfully," Yaxley told Reuters. "Personally, I hope that mining does not take place."
Beyond that physical difficulty, there's also the fact that international community banned mining in Antarctica back in 1991. That ban is in place until 2041 and will probably be extended, although only 50 nations have signed the international agreement.
Of course, even if mineral exploitation does begin in Antarctica a few decades from now, it may not be worth it digging for diamonds. Riley told Reuters that only about 10 percent of all Group One kimberlite pipes similar to the one discovered in Antarctica are economically viable.
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