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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)

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dbenic December 21 2013 at 6:23 PM

This story didn't even need to be broadcasted over the web.

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eld405 December 21 2013 at 2:00 PM

Lets promote manufactured diamonds that rival the "real-thing". If it's a look or style then a replica diamond would be better than digging up the Antarctic. Why destroy this pristine part of our world to satisfy the thirst of the newly welathy. Education is bliss and lets talk more about a replacement rather than destroying the topography of a continent. Manufactured diamonds rival the real thing. Leave the Antarctic alone as it always has been. We keep draining this planet of its resources and there has to be a point where sustainability is more important now than ever. Whatever damage that has been done needs to be remediated. We need to heal our world and not continually destroy it for the sake of money, money, money!

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mraamadv1 December 21 2013 at 10:49 AM

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brandoncobb108 December 20 2013 at 11:00 PM

u know good and well after this goes out they will be finding stiffs all over that continent. hell the thought crossed my mind.

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1 reply to brandoncobb108's comment
Scott December 21 2013 at 12:08 AM

That's funny! Diamonds are a ghoul's best friend!

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jimblake35 December 20 2013 at 10:56 PM

Dtamonds are used in many different ways , however thet should be left where they are untill there is a drastic need for them, since they will keep just fine !

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mi0916538 December 20 2013 at 10:50 PM

Big business has always exploited resources within their reach. When the ice melts away, they'll be ready with their heavy equipment and gas-bag politicians urging us to "dig, baby! Dig!"

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keedyk87 December 20 2013 at 10:36 PM

I do not find this encouraging at all MR. perspective less idiot who wrote this article?

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betqpublic December 20 2013 at 10:26 PM

OMG quick lets go destroy Antarctica for diamonds. artificially inflated gems that are actually plentiful but the price is kept ridiculously high by the DeBeers cartel .

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cassiemoyer December 20 2013 at 10:26 PM

I agree with most of the comments. The site should not be touched. Any mining, exploration or fact finding will be bullsh*t, because we all know, first of all, that whoever comes up with the biggest "bribe" will be the one who will be given the rights to rape this pristine area. No one should be able to touch this area. NO ONE!!!

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Jean December 20 2013 at 10:25 PM

I hope they leave the diamonds alone. I hope they ban diamonds in Antarctica.

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