The potential presence of diamonds in Antarctica is reported in Nature Communications this week. The findings extend the Cretaceous kimberlite province, the rock formation responsible for many of the world’s diamonds, into the environmentally protected Antarctic.
Diamonds are formed under immense heat and pressure 100 miles deep, in the molten rock of the Earth’s mantle. Millions of years later, powerful eruptions bring these precious gems to the Earth’s surface, where they are preserved in igneous rock formations known as kimberlites, which, until now, had been reported on every continent except Antarctica. Gregory Yaxley and colleagues analyse geological samples obtained from the southeastern slopes of Mount Meredith, part of the vast Prince Charles mountain range in East Antarctica. The team present textural, mineralogical and geochemical data typical of Group I kimberlites and in doing so report the first bone fide Antarctic kimberlite occurrence and with it, the potential presence of diamonds.
Antarctica is protected from mining under the Madrid Protocol, but only until 2041. However, given the immense logistical difficulties associated with mining this frozen desert there is likely to be little opposition to an extension of this prohibition, despite the potential discovery of a new type of Antarctic ‘ice’.