Supercontinent breakup pushed pink diamonds to Earth's surface
The breakup of a supercontinent 1.3 billion years ago may have moved rare pink diamonds from the depths of Earth to the surface, researchers report.
Why it matters: The key role of continent movements in producing pink diamonds could point to other caches of the valuable gems.
- More than 90% of the pink diamonds found on Earth came from the Argyle mine in western Australia.
- But they are still "incredibly rare" — about one in 500 diamonds at the mine is pink, says Hugo Olierook, a geologist at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. The mine closed in 2020.
How it works: Scientists knew that diamonds form from carbon under intense pressure deep in the Earth.
- They also knew that colliding tectonic plates can twist, bend and rotate the crystal lattices, turning them pink. (If they're twisted even more, they become red; even more and they turn brown.) Argyle's pink diamonds were formed more than 1.8 billion years ago when plates collided in what is now western Australia.
- A volcano eruption brought them to surface, but scientists didn't know what triggered it and exactly when.
- Unlike other diamonds typically found in old rock deposits in the middle of continents, the pink diamonds at Argyle are in younger rocks.
What they found: Analyzing minerals from rocks in the mine, Olierook and his colleagues found they arrived at the surface about 1.3 billion years ago — 100 million years before scientists previously thought, they report in the journal Nature Communications.
- At that time, the supercontinent Nuna was splitting.
- At Argyle, the land didn't break apart but stretched and thinned where the plates had collided hundreds of millions of years earlier.
- The researchers propose that thinning created gaps in the crust through which magma could have then carried the diamonds to the surface.
Yes, but: There are open questions about the details of how the diamonds formed, and Olierook says the estimate of Argyle's age could be refined.
- "Just because it's the exact same age as a supercontinent breakup doesn't necessarily mean it's the breakup that caused the diamond eruption," he cautions.
- "It's a very good theory. It seems to make sense. But unless you've got a time machine and go back in time to actually witness it happening there, then it's difficult to know."