Scientists say they have discovered evidence that diamonds could possibly exist in the mountains of the Antarctica.
In a scientific paper published in the journal Nature Communications, a team said they had found a rock called kimberlite in the Prince Charles Mountains in East Antarctica.
This mineral’s signature is identical to that in other locations where diamonds have been found.
Kimberlite is a rock rarely found near the Earth’s surface and is believed to be formed at great depths in the mantle, where conditions are right for forming diamonds, carbon atoms that are squeezed under extreme pressure and temperature.
“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. “The samples are texturally, mineralogically and geochemically typical of Group 1 kimberlites from more classical localities.”
“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.
Meanwhile, other geologists doubt the commercial value in finding Kimberlite. “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,” said Teal Riley of the British Antarctic Survey. “It’s a big leap from here to mining,” he told Reuters.
But, just because there may be diamonds, recovering any Antarctic mineral resources for commercial purposes is currently forbidden.
A treaty protecting Antarctica was signed in 1961 and was updated with an environmental protocol in 1991 whose Article 7 expressly prohibits “any activity relating to mineral resources.”
The 1991 pact comes up for review in 2041, 50 years after it came into effect following ratification. It has been ratified by 35 nations.
Robert Larter, a geophysicist with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), said “the default assumption” was that the protocol will continue. “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,” he said in comments to Britain’s Science Media Center.
“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 Dr Kevin Hughes from the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. “An additional issue is that nations outside the Protocol are not bound by its provisions, including the ban on mineral resource activities.”
Time will tell whether diamonds are in Antarctica, or when the treaty comes up for review, will we be mining Antarctica for diamonds.
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