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Diamonds Reach Earth’s Surface through Tectonic Plate Breakup, Study Finds



Diamonds are formed under immense pressure deep within the Earth and can be hundreds or even billions of years old. Most diamonds are found in volcanic rocks called kimberlites, which are located in the oldest and thickest parts of continents. The process of how diamonds reach the Earth’s surface has long been a mystery, but a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Southampton and the University of Birmingham has shed light on the mechanisms involved.

The research team discovered that the breakup of tectonic plates is the primary driving force behind the generation and eruption of diamond-rich magmas from deep within the Earth. This finding was made possible through the use of statistical analysis and machine learning algorithms to examine the connection between continental breakup and kimberlite volcanism. The study found that kimberlite eruptions tend to occur 20 to 30 million years after the initial tectonic breakup of continents.

The scientists also observed that the patterns of diamond eruptions follow a cyclical rhythm, mimicking the assembly and breakup of supercontinents over time. The Earth’s mantle, which is the layer between the crust and core, can be disrupted by the stretching or rifting of the crust, even thousands of kilometers away. This disruption sets off a domino effect, leading to the formation of kimberlite magma and subsequent diamond eruptions.

Understanding these geological processes could provide valuable insights into the locations and timing of past volcanic eruptions associated with diamond deposits. This information may aid in the discovery of additional diamond sources in the future.

Diamond deposits are mainly found in kimberlite pipes, which originate deep within the Earth’s mantle and burst through to the surface in violent eruptions. Another type of diamond deposit is known as an alluvial deposit, which is formed when diamonds from kimberlite pipes are eroded and transported by water to riverbeds and coastal areas. There are also diamond deposits in certain meteorites known as ureilites, which are likely formed by high-velocity impacts in space.

The mining of diamonds has significant environmental and social impacts, with strict protocols in place, such as the Kimberley Process, to prevent the trade of conflict diamonds. However, these protocols have faced criticism for their effectiveness in addressing broader social and environmental issues associated with diamond mining.

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