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Dec 17, 2013 12:59 PM EST

Antarctica's Ic Mountains May Be Harboring Diamonds


Scientists announced they have discovered compelling evidence that indicates Antarctica may be harboring a new type of ice - diamonds, BBC News reported.

Researchers have identified kimberlite - a rare type of rock that often bears diamonds - in the Earth's southernmost continent.  Kimberlite is named after the South African town of Kimberley famed for a late 19th century diamond rush, Reuters reported.

The team found three samples on the slopes of Mount Meredith in the northern Prince Charles Mountains.

"These rocks represent the first reported occurrence of genuine kimberlite in Antarctica," the Australian researchers wrote in the journal Nature Communications about their findings.

According to BBC News, the presence of the bluish rock has been a clue to significant deposits of diamonds in several parts of the world, including Africa and Australia. Diamonds are formed from pure carbon under extreme heat and pressure at depths of about 150km in the Earth's crust.

"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. "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."

However, the mineral riches that exist in the icy mountains of Antarctica are off limits to mining.

Mining in the permanently frozen continent is banned until at least 2041, due to a 1991 environmental accord under the Antarctic Treaty that preserves the continent for scientific research and wildlife, from penguins to seals. The treaty bans excavating the continent for at least 50 years.

This forbids scientists from recovering any Antarctic mineral resources for commercial purposes, BBC News reported.

However it is up for review in 2041 and could be subject to change.

"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, told BBC News. 

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