The Glittering Ice Of Antarctica May Be Concealing Diamonds

Image Caption: View looking southeast from the locality of the kimberlite samples on the slopes of Mt Meredith, across the Lambert Glacier, towards the Fisher Massif, northern Prince Charles Mountains, Antarctica. Photo by Dr Geoff Nichols

Australian researchers say there’s a potential presence of diamonds in Antarctica.

The journal Nature Communications journal has published a paper which shows the rock formation responsible for many of the world’s diamonds extends into the Antarctic.

Diamonds are formed under immense heat and pressure in the molten rock of the Earth’s mantle.

Millions of years later, powerful eruptions bring these 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.

A team including Gregory Yaxley of the Australian National University in Canberra analysed geological samples from the southeastern slopes of Mount Meredith, part of the vast Prince Charles mountain range in East Antarctica.

They found kimberlites and 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’.

Dr Robert Larter, a British Antarctic Survey geophysicist, says it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean the discovery of a commercially-viable deposit,or even actual diamonds.

“What it reports is the discovery of rocks of the type that often host diamonds,” he says.

The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (1991), Article 7 states that ‘any activity relating to mineral resources, other than scientific research, shall be prohibited’.

Although there is provision for the operation of the protocol to be reviewed 50 years after it came into force, the default assumption is that it will continue.

Dr Larter says any change would require agreement of the majority of parties at a Review Conference, including three-quarters of the States which were Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties at the time of adoption of the Protocol.

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