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Diamonds in Antarctica

Antarctica has been attracting more and more research teams in the past 20 years. 
Diamonds in Antarctica
Antarctica has been attracting more and more research teams in the past 20 years. 

There is a lot of interesting geographical data to be collected that will further our understanding of our earth. Additionally, scientists have recently found a large amount of rock that is known to often harbor diamonds. Here is the catch: Mining is banned in Antarctica. What shall become of this find?

No diamonds have been found in the small samples they have taken, however researchers are quite confident that they are there.

"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 team from Australia reported in a science journal called Nature Communications that they had found the large deposit of kimberlite around Mt. Meredith located in the Prince Charles mountain range that is in the eastern part of Antarctica. Kimberlite is not a common rock and is almost always associated with the abundance of diamonds. The name Kimberlite came from a South African town called Kimberley where a diamond rush happened in the late 19th century.

A diamond rush here, however, is not likely. It is the coldest place on earth, desolate and extremely remote. Mining expeditions in this frozen hell would cost a fortune, but that is OK because mining there is strictly forbidden by the 1991 Environmental Accord. Antarctica will only be available to scientists who wish to study the frozen environment in its natural state.

"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.

Teal Riley of the Antarctic Survey doubts the commercial worth of the alleged deposit, however.

“Less than 10 percent of the deposits of similar kimberlite are economically viable,” said Riley.

The Treaty will be up for review 50 years from 1991, however big players such as the U.S. And China are backing the ban to mine. Talk of extending the ban has even been heard.

"There is likely to be little opposition to an extension of this prohibition, despite the potential discovery of a new type of Antarctic ‘ice'," Nature Communications said in a statement.

On the other hand, experts in the field doubt that the treaty will be extended. Precious minerals such as gold, silver and platinum have been found in Antarctica along with the diamonds. Private companies have sent mining operations to northern Canada and Siberia already and have had success, Why not Antarctica?

"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 mines are not in large supply either, and that may just be what tips the scales. The last major diamond mine was discovered in Zimbabwe in 1997. Supply and demand are powerful forces.

Will We keep the frozen land a haven for scientific ventures, or will we strip mine the whole continent for its resources? Will we find more efficient ways to extract the gems, or will we find more grand adventures somewhere else like Mars?

We shall see.


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