Until as recently as December 2013, diamonds had been found on every continent but Antarctica. New discoveries suggest that the gems exist on all seven continents.
Kimberlite pipes have been discovered in Antarctica. A kimberlite pipe is a vertical structure in the Earth’s crust. Kimberlite pipes form when thick layers of magmatic rock create pressure causing kimberlite magma to rise. A volcanic eruption pushes this magmatic rock (which may or may not contain diamonds) to the surface, leaving behind a channel called a kimberlite pipe or “diamond elevator.”
Scientists found three kimberlite pipes about 120 million years old which means they would have been forming right around the time when the land mass now known as India was pulling away from the then combined continent of Australia and Antarctica. Scientists believe that this shifting of tectonic plates played a large role in the forming of the kimberlite.
Despite the new discoveries, there will not be a mine opening in Antarctica. Less than two percent of kimberlites contain valuable, gem-quality diamonds, and tons and tons of kimberlite must be mined in order to find just one carat of diamond. Even being able to evaluate a kimberlite pipe necessitates processing multiple tons of kimberlite. The Antarctic environment just is not suitable for that kind of operation.
Additionally, even if it were physically possible to mine these diamonds, the Madrid Protocol bans all mining activity on the continent.
Photo credit: Andrew Mandemaker, Wikimedia Commons