Diamonds show Earth still capable of ‘superhot’ surprises

Diamonds may be 'forever' but some may have formed more recently than geologists thought. A study of 26 diamonds, formed under extreme melting conditions in the Earth's mantle, found two populations, one of which has geologically 'young' ages. The results show that certain volcanic events on Earth may still be able to create super-heated conditions previously thought to have only existed early in the planet's history before it cooled. The findings may have implications for diamond prospecting.

Diamonds can be categorised by their inclusions: minerals trapped within the carbon crystal structure that give clues about the conditions and the rocks in which they formed. The studied diamonds contain harzburgitic inclusions, a type of peridotite ‒ the most common rock in Earth's mantle ‒ which have experienced extreme temperatures and undergone very large amounts of melting.

The study led by researchers at the Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam used radioisotope analysis to date tiny inclusions trapped in diamonds from the Venetia mine in South Africa. Results showed that the diamonds had formed in at least two separate events. Nine of the diamonds had an age of around 3 billion years, and could be linked to volcanism caused by the break-up of an old continent that led to large-scale melting. However, surprisingly, ten diamonds were dated as just over a billion years old, correlating with a giant volcanic event at Umkondo in southern Zimbabwe, 1.1 billion years ago.

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