Australian scientists have found the kind of rocks that typically contain diamonds in the frozen Prince Charles Mountains of Antarctica, according to a paper published Tuesday at the journal Nature Communications.
While the frozen continent has been protected from mining under an international treaty signed in 1991, the team says the discovery is scientifically significant and may have implications for the future.
“The samples are texturally, mineralogically and geochemically typical of Group 1 kimberlites from more classical localities,” says the study’s leader Greg Yaxley, from the Australian National University in Canberra.
This means the mineral’s signature is identical to that in other locations in the world where diamonds have been found, hints the study, which focuses only on the region’s geology, and not on its mining potential.
“However even amongst the Group 1 kimberlites, only 10% or so are economically viable, so it’s still a big step to extrapolate this latest finding to any diamond mining activity in Antarctica,” Yaxley adds.
The study suggests kimberlite was thrust towards the surface around 120 million years ago, when present-day Africa, the Arabian peninsula, South America, the Indian sub-continent, Australia and Antarctica were glommed together in a super-continent called Gondwana.
Scarcely any new big diamond mines have been developed in recent years, leading to expectations of a supply squeeze by 2020. In fact the last major find was Rio Tinto’s (LON, ASX: RIO) Murrow mine in Zimbabwe in 1997.
However, the physical obstacles of mining the Antarctica are immeasurable, as the continent is 99% covered in ice, some of which is 3 to 4km thick.
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