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Antarctica Diamonds? Discovery of kimberlite suggests they are there



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.

EXTENDED BAN

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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms3921

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

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
duey35 December 20 2013 at 12:21 PM

As the ice moves over these fields it will pick up the raw dimonds and move towards the ocean after the ice calves off the glacier and floats out to sea it melts and will dop them in the ocean.

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mlaurel58 December 20 2013 at 4:06 PM

After reading a few of these comments, it is plainly and painfully obvious to me that we're all just plain screwed.

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crujr2 December 20 2013 at 4:07 PM

Okkkkkkk

Flag Reply +1 rate up
netecutli December 20 2013 at 11:56 AM

There goes the last continent to be polluted and destroyed by humans. Greed will overcome all treaties.

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Al and Linda December 20 2013 at 11:55 AM

Doesnt give any one the right to go and rape the land.

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2 replies
Mary Al and Linda December 20 2013 at 12:03 PM

ener watch gold rush, being sea gold talk about raping the land

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1 reply
slackwarerobert Mary December 23 2013 at 10:46 AM

What part of the word SEA confuses you? they are not on the land. If you watch the show when they have to go onto land because of parts or injuries, they are very upset.

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dlkreps Al and Linda December 20 2013 at 12:16 PM

Greed never needed "rights" to go get what it deems is there for the getting.

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1 reply
slackwarerobert dlkreps December 20 2013 at 12:29 PM

Prince Charles mountain. Sounds like the government is already staking out claims, not evil companies.

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fantasicfam714 December 20 2013 at 4:08 PM

Sooooo, are you telling me that when we thought we knew everything about everything on this earth....we were wrong???!!!!???? OMG!

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2 replies
donahuepapad123 fantasicfam714 December 20 2013 at 4:25 PM

we are far from knowing everything about this planit ??? we should be exploring the great oceans to help find cures , and medicines , and food and fuel sources , places to live and work under water ? before we think about going to other planets which would only be available to the few ?? and the oceans would be for the many ??

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thetoysoldier fantasicfam714 December 20 2013 at 4:25 PM

This is small potatoes. A previously unexplored rainforest was discovered recently by someone playing around on Google Earth. They've discovered a bunch of new species there, and they're just getting started.

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entheoscht December 20 2013 at 4:08 PM

Do we REALLY NEED more diamonds that badly?
Leave Antarctica alone.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Ashley December 20 2013 at 11:51 AM

and you should leave them where they are and not disturb the balance of the poles and global temperature with your greed and machines. "whooo pretty diamonds?!!?" who gives a F*** if were all gonna die for it?

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1 reply
jshaw103 Ashley December 20 2013 at 12:00 PM

settle down, lets go get em!!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
ebur51 December 20 2013 at 4:10 PM

Why would they say "Encouraging Find" for this news piece?

Flag Reply +1 rate up
vicperdido December 20 2013 at 11:46 AM

Ok how is this "Encouraging"???

Flag Reply +6 rate up
1 reply
banksupply vicperdido December 20 2013 at 11:59 AM

It's encouraging to know that is there. Just like it's encouraging to know that your neighbor has food in their refrigerator..............just in case you need it

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