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  • 18 December 2013, 0:12

Antarctica May Be Rich In Diamonds, Study Says

Scientists have found evidence that the icy mountains of Antarctica may be rich in diamonds.

Australian geologists have discovered kimberlite - a volcanic rock that often bears the precious gems - for the first time on the vast, frozen continent.

In a scientific paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the team revealed it found kimberlite in the Prince Charles Mountains in East Antarctica.

No diamonds were found in the samples, and the study - focusing only on the region's geology, not on mining possibilities - did not quantify how many could be there.

But it said the mineral's make-up is identical to that in other locations in the world where diamonds are found.

"The samples are texturally, mineralogically and geochemically typical of Group 1 kimberlites from more classical localities," said lead scientist Greg Yaxley, from the Australian National University in Canberra.

However, if there are diamonds they will be off limits until 2041 under the Antarctic Treaty that preserves the continent for scientific research and wildlife.

Geologists doubt the find could be commercially viable due to Antarctica's remoteness, cold and winter darkness.

Teal Riley, of the British Antarctic Survey, said less than 10% of deposits of similar kimberlite are economically viable. "It's a big leap from here to mining," he said.

Kimberlite is believed to be formed at great depths in the Earth's mantle, where conditions are right for forming diamonds - carbon atoms squeezed into lattice shapes under extreme pressure and temperature.

Experts think it was thrust towards the surface around 120 million years ago, when Africa, the Arabian peninsula, South America, the Indian sub-continent, Australia and Antarctica were joined together in a super-continent called Gondwana.

The continents then drifted apart, which explains why diamonds have been found from Brazil to southern Africa and India.

The discovery means kimberlite has now been discovered on all continents.

The rock was named after the South African town of Kimberley, famed for a 19th century diamond rush.

In 1871, a cook found a huge stone while digging on a farm, and within a year 50,000 prospectors were there, digging feverishly and living in a tented city.

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