Ice might not be the only crystals formed in Antarctica.
A new study suggests the remote region might house diamonds. The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, identify kimberlite rock deposits, which are known to be a source of diamonds, the BBC reports.
"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, told Reuters.
The Australian research team identified the kimberlite deposits around Mount Meredith, in the Prince Charles Mountains in East Antarctica. The rare rock was found during the 19th century diamond rush in Kimberly, South Africa.
"The fact they are reporting Group One kimberlites is an important one as diamonds are more likely to be found in this style of kimberlite eruption," Dr. Teal Riley, a survey geologist with the British Antarctic Survey told the BBC about the study. "However even amongst the Group One kimberlites, only 10 percent or so are economically viable, so it's still a big step to extrapolate this latest finding to any diamond mining activity in Antarctica."
In other words, a diamond rush in Antarctica may be decades away. There are also legal implications when it comes to diamond mining in the remote region. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, enacted in 1991, prohibits mining in the continent. But the treaty is up for review in 2041.
"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. Other geologists agree, adding that if the diamonds do exist, they may hold little commercial value.
"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," Dr. Kevin Hughes from the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research said.
Diamonds are formed under extreme heat approximately 100 miles beneath the Earth’s surface. Millions of years later, eruptions bring the diamonds to the surface in kimberlite rock deposits.
Scientists theorize the kimberlite in Antarctica is 120 million years old and was formed when modern-day Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, South America, the Indian sub-continent, Australia and Antarctica were formed to make the super-continent called Gondwana.