Diamonds In Antarctica: Researchers Discover Kimberlite Deposits, Which May Contain Precious Stones

By Josh Lieberman on December 17, 2013 5:57 PM EST

diamonds
Kimberlite found in Antarctica may contain diamonds, but mining them is another issue entirely. Above, diamonds from Russian kimberlite. (Photo: Reuters)

Researchers have found three samples of the rare rock kimberlite around Mount Meredith in East Antarctica. Oh, that doesn't sound very exciting? Well did you know that kimberlite often contains diamonds?

"It would be very surprising if there weren't diamonds in these kimberlites," said Greg Yaxley of the Australian National University in Canberra, who led the research. But Yaxley said that if the diamonds are in fact there, they will likely stay there: "I don't think it's terribly practical that anyone could actually explore successfully and, personally, I hope that mining does not take place."

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Right now it's impossible for a mining company to mine Antarctica. Not only would the kimberlite deposits be difficult to mine because they are...in Antarctica, but it would be illegal. The 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty states that "Any activity relating to mineral resources, other than scientific research, shall be prohibited." 

The treaty is up for renewal in 2041, and is expected to remain in force. In a statement, Nature Communications which published the kimberlite research, said, "There is likely to be little opposition to an extension of this prohibition, despite the potential discovery of a new type of Antarctic 'ice.'" But with gold, silver and coal found in Antarctica--and now diamonds--not everyone is so sure about that.     

"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.

Diamond demand is rising and supply is decreasing; there hasn't been a major diamond find since the Murowa diamond mine was set up in Zimbabwe in 1997. Combine new technology with mankind's seemingly insatiable desire for diamonds, and it doesn't seem so farfetched that nations would want a piece of some Antarctica diamond action.   

Yaxley's research, "The discovery of kimberlites in Antarctica extends the vast Gondwanan Cretaceous province," was published today in Nature Communications. 

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