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Scientists discover 'quadrillion tons of diamond' beneath Earth's surface

19 July 2018

The locations may be rare on the Earth's surface, but looking at the entire geological picture of the planet, diamonds are not as rare.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) believe they have found a substantial cache of diamonds hidden in the Earth's interior.

Diamonds are made of pure carbon and formed under enormous heat and pressure over many millions of years. The very deepest portions are known as the "root". At about 120 to 150 km below the surface, it is out of reach of even the best drills available right now.

Dr Ulrich Faul, a research scientist at MIT, explained that one of diamond's many special properties is the speed at which sound waves travel through the material.

The thing is that we can't actually get to them, but they're there, and they're a lot, more than we could ever imagine.

However, the diamonds are buried more than 160km (100 miles) beneath the Earth's surface - making it unlikely the discovery will spark a diamond rush. The focus of the research was on cratonic roots, which can stretch as deep as 200 miles through the Earth's crust and into the mantle. When the seismic data showed that sound waves passed through them faster than expected, the researchers started investigating the material that caused the anomaly. Cratons lie beneath most continental tectonic plates.

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Based on the data, the researchers have tried to reconstruct what the interior of the Earth is like. The seismic data helps scientists figure out what the deepest parts of Earth are composed of.

Vibrations from earthquakes and tsunamis tend to speed up when passing through cratonic roots.

But the sound waves being reflected back did not match expectations.

However, the discrepancy was too much and the coolness of the rock did not adequately account for the significant uptake in wave speed.

The findings, however, are unlikely to set off a diamond rush, say scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States and colleagues.

'Then we have to say, "There is a problem".

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To explain those spikes, the researchers created a three-dimensional model and sent virtual sound waves travelling through virtual rocks, made up of different combinations of minerals. Then the team calculated how fast sound waves would travel through each virtual rock, and found only one type of rock that produced the same velocities as what the seismologists measured: one that contains 1 to 2 percent diamond, in addition to peridotite (the predominant rock type of the Earth's upper mantle) and minor amounts of eclogite (representing subducted oceanic crust).

Faul said, "Diamond in many ways is special".

"It's circumstantial evidence, but we've pieced it all together".

A study published Monday estimates the composition of deep rock layers known as cratons and concludes that they may be far more glittery than previously suspected.

Diamonds are less rare than you probably thought.

Garber said "Our understanding of deep Earth continues to improve because we do more measurements, use more and sometimes get samples".

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Scientists discover 'quadrillion tons of diamond' beneath Earth's surface