December 17, 2013
Researchers Find Signs Of Diamonds In Antarctica
[ Watch the Video: Traces Of Diamonds Found In Antarctica ]
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Researchers working in Antarctica have announced the discovery of kimberlite deposits on the frozen continent. Kimberlites are rocks known for their propensity to contain diamonds.
The discovery is not expected to set off a diamond rush anytime soon, however, as an international treaty has banned mining on Antarctica until 2041. However, it does make a potential extension of the ban much more interesting.
In a report on the discovery published in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers said they found the deposits around Mount Meredith, in the Prince Charles Mountains in East Antarctica.
"I don't think it's terribly practical that anyone could actually explore successfully and, personally, I hope that mining does not take place," he added.
Named after the South African town of Kimberley that became the site of a late 19th-century diamond rush, kimberlite is a rare igneous rock where diamonds can often be found. However, less than 10 percent of similar kimberlite deposits are economically viable for mining, according to Riley of the British Antarctic Survey.
"It's a big leap from here to mining," he said.
While only 50 countries are officially bound to the international treaty banning mining operations on Antarctica, those 50 members include countries with a heavy influence, such as the United States and China. Signed in 1991, the environmental accord banned Antarctic mining for at least 50 years.
However, discoveries of gold, platinum, copper, iron and coal in Antarctica could fuel plans for mining operations after 2041. Diamonds are already being mined today in some of the more remote regions of the Arctic.
"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 Kevin Hughes, of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.
With very few new mines cropping up to feed growing demand from emerging economies such as China, demand for the precious stones could outpace supply in the years ahead, causing prices to skyrocket. The last major diamond find was Rio Tint's Murrow mine in Zimbabwe in 1997.
Riley noted there is a close distinction between scientific mapping and prospecting with the intent to later mine. Russia, Ukraine and several other countries have appeared to be particularly interested in surveying Antarctica in recent years.
Diamonds are created deep in the Earth’s mantle by immense heat and pressure. Millions of years after being formed, they are dragged to the surface through volcanic activity and locked into the distinctive kimberlite formations.
The igneous rock deposits also serve as an indication of how the continents drift. The region of East Antarctica where the latest discovery was found was once linked to modern-day Africa and India, which are also known to contain kimberlite.
The newly discovered deposits “are texturally, mineralogically and geochemically typical of Group I kimberlites from more classical localities,” the researchers wrote.