Antarctica Diamonds? Discovery of kimberlite suggests they are there

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Antarctica Diamonds? Discovery of kimberlite suggests they are there
In this Jan. 22, 2015 photo, Manuel Fuentes, a Chilean Navy member, pushes ice with a paddle from aboard a zodiac to get close to the Chile's "Aquiles" navy ship to carry international scientists to Chile'' station Bernardo O'Higgins, Antarctica. Water is eating away at the Antarctic ice, mostly from below, melting it where ice hits the oceans. As the ice sheets slowly thaw, water pours into the ocean. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Antarctica is overall accumulating ice, but parts have increased ice loss in last decades:
ANTARCTICA - JUNE 15: Iceberg near the Ukrainian Station Akademik Vernadsky, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
In this Jan. 22, 2015 photo, Gentoo penguins stand on rocks near the Chilean station Bernardo O'Higgins, Antarctica. Here on the Antarctic peninsula, where the continent is warming the fastest because the land sticks out in the warmer ocean, 49 billion tons of ice (nearly 45 billion metric tons), is lost a year according to NASA. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
In this Jan. 22, 2015 photo, a zodiac carrying a team of international scientists heads to Chile's station Bernardo O'Higgins, Antarctica. Parts of Antarctica are melting so rapidly it has become âground zero of global climate change without a doubt,â said Harvard geophysicist Jerry Mitrovica. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
On Sept. 19, 2014, the five-day average of Antarctic sea ice extent exceeded 20 million square kilometers for the first time since 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The red line shows the average maximum extent from 1979-2014. (NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio/Cindy Starr)
In this Jan. 25, 2015 photo, an iceberg floats near Byers Peninsula, Livingston Island, in the South Shetland Islands archipelago of Antarctica. The southern continent may hold clues to answering humanityâs most basic questions. It is the continent of mystery. Strange, forbidding and most of all desolate, the continent was first seen 195 years ago and it is still mostly unexplored. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
This undated handout photo provided by NASA shows the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctic. Two new studies indicate that part of the huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting a slow collapse in an unstoppable way. Alarmed scientists say that means even more sea level rise than they figured. (AP Photo/NASA)
Although the Amundsen Sea region is only a fraction of the whole West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the region contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by 4 feet (1.2 meters).
True colour satellite image of the Earth centred on the South Pole with cloud coverage, during winter solstice at 6 a.m GMT. This image in orthographic projection was compiled from data acquired by LANDSAT 5 & 7 satellites., Globe Centred On The South Pole, True Colour Satellite Image (Photo by Planet Observer/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
The Larsen B ice shelf, a large floating ice mass on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula, has shattered and separated from the continent In this image taken March 7, 2002 by NASA's Terra satellite and released Thursday, March 21, 2002. The ice shelf, which has existed since the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago, collapsed starting in January with staggering speed during one of the warmest summers on record there, scientists say. The collapsed area was designated Larsen B. The blue area is the shelf's shattered ice. The lost surface area measured 1,040 square miles, which would dwarf Rhode Island. The collapse released 720 billion tons of ice.(AP Photo/NASA, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado,Ted Scambos )
A deep crevasse forms in the ice shelf as an enormous iceberg, left, breaks off the Knox Coast in the Australian Antarctic Territory Jan. 11, 2008. (AP Photo/Torsten Blackwood, POOL)
BAILEY HEAD, DECEPTION ISLAND, ANARCTICA - DECEMBER 17, 2010: This is a satellite image closeup view of Bailey Head, Deception Island, Antarctica collected on December 17, 2010. (Photo DigitalGlobe/ScapeWare3d via Getty Images)
The ice highway at the Antarctica stretches as far as the eye can see in this undated hand-out photo. Finishing the second year of construction, it is hoped that the ice highway which stretches into Antarctica's hostile center from the forbidding continent's northern coast in an attempt to open a new supply route to the pole, where America has a research station. (AP Photo/Raytheon Antarctic Services, John Feaney, HO)
In this image provided by the National Snow and Ice Data Center, sastrugi stick out from the snow surface in this photo near Plateau Station in East Antarctica in 2008. Most of Antarctica looks quite flat, despite the subtle domes, hills, and hollows. A new look at NASA satellite data revealed that Earth set a new record for coldest temperature recorded in East Antarctica. It happened in August 2010 when it hit -135.8 degrees. Then on July 31 of this year, it came close again: -135.3 degrees. The old record had been -128.6 degrees. (AP Photo/National Snow and Ice Data Center, Atsuhiro Muto)
NBC NEWS -- Antarctica 2013 -- Pictured: Gerlache strait Antarctica February 13, 2013 -- (Photo by: Kerry Sanders/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
This image obtained from NASA 15 May 2007 shows what a team of NASA and university scientists say 15 May 2007 is clear evidence that extensive areas of snow melted in west Antarctica (left) in January 2005 in response to warm temperatures. This was the first widespread Antarctic melting ever detected with NASA's QuikScat satellite and the most significant melt observed using satellites during the past three decades. Combined, the affected regions encompassed an area as big as California. The NASA statement described the findings as 'the most significant melt observed using satellites during the past three decades.' (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
GLACIER CALVING, ANTARCTICA - JANUARY 27, 2012: This is a satellite image of a glacier calving in Antarctica, collected on January 27, 2012. (Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images)
Earth. True colour satellite image of the Earth, centred on Antarctica. The South Pole is at centre. Antarctica is a frozen continent, permanently covered in snow and ice. Surrounding Antarctica are the waters of the Southern Ocean, mixing with the Atlantic Ocean (upper centre), the Pacific Ocean (lower left) and the Indian Ocean (centre right). Around the edge of the hemisphere is New Zealand (lower centre), Australia (lower right), and the southern parts of Africa (upper right, the island of Madagascar is also seen) and South America (upper left). The image used data from LANDSAT 5 & 7 satellites. Print size 42x42cm., Globe South Pole, True Colour Satellite Image (Photo by Planet Observer/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
BAILEY HEAD, DECEPTION ISLAND, ANARCTICA - DECEMBER 17, 2010: This is a satellite image closeup view of Bailey Head, Deception Island, Antarctica collected on December 17, 2010. (Photo DigitalGlobe/ScapeWare3d via Getty Images)
This image provided by NASA Thursday Aug. 18, 2011 shows the first complete map of the speed and direction of ice flow in Antarctica, derived from radar interferometric data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's, the European Space Agency's Envisat and the Canadian Space Agency's spacecraft. The color-coded satellite data are overlaid on a mosaic of Antarctica created with data from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft. Pixel spacing is 984 feet. The thick black lines delineate major ice divides. Subglacial lakes in Antarctica's interior are also outlined in black. Thick black lines along the coast indicate ice sheet grounding lines. (AP Photo/NASA)

By Alister Doyle

OSLO (Reuters) - A kind of rock that often contains diamonds has been found in Antarctica for the first time, hinting at mineral riches in the vast, icy continent -- where mining is banned.

No diamonds were found, but researchers said they were confident the gems were there.

"It would be very surprising if there weren't diamonds in these kimberlites," Greg Yaxley of the Australian National University in Canberra, who led the research, said in a telephone interview.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, an Australian-led team reported finding the kimberlite deposits around Mount Meredith, in the Prince Charles Mountains in East Antarctica. Kimberlite is a rare rock where diamonds are often found; it is named after the South African town of Kimberley, the site of a late 19th-century diamond rush.

That does not mean Antarctica will soon see its own diamond rush. Antarctica is not only forbiddingly cold and remote but also protected by a treaty that preserves the continent for scientific research and wildlife, from penguins to seals. The 1991 environmental accord banned mining for at least 50 years.

"I don't think it's terribly practical that anyone could actually explore successfully and, personally, I hope that mining does not take place," Yaxley said.

Others geologists doubted the find held much commercial value. Less than 10 percent of the deposits of similar kimberlite are economically viable, said Teal Riley of the British Antarctic Survey. "It's a big leap from here to mining," he told Reuters.


The Antarctic Treaty is binding only on its 50 signatories, but it has the backing of major powers, including the United States and China. Many expect the ban on mining to be extended in 2041.

"There is likely to be little opposition to an extension of this prohibition, despite the potential discovery of a new type of Antarctic 'ice'," Nature Communications said in a statement.

But another expert said the future was not so clear. Gold, platinum, copper, iron and coal have also been found in Antarctica. And diamonds are already mined today in some of the world's colder reaches of northern Canada and Siberia.

"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.

Riley said there was a fine line between geological mapping and prospecting with an eye to mining. Russia, Ukraine and China, among other countries, have been more active in surveying Antarctica in recent years.

And demand for diamonds is likely to outpace supply in coming years. Few new mines are being discovered to provide the newly wealthy in countries such as China with Western-style jewellery. The last major find was Rio Tint's Murrow mine in Zimbabwe in 1997.

Diamonds are formed under immense heat and pressure around 100 miles down, in the molten rock of Earth's mantle. Millions of years later, they are brought to the surface in powerful eruptions and preserved in the distinctive igneous rock formations called kimberlites.

The kimberlite deposit is also confirmation of how continents drift. The region of East Antarctica was once part of a continent known as Gondwanaland, connected to what is now Africa and India, which also have kimberlite.

For a link to the report:

(Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler and Clara Ferreira-Marques in London; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Larry King)
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