‘Diamonds May Be Forever,’ but They May Not Be as Rare as We’re Led to Believe

'Diamond formation in the deep Earth, the very deep Earth, may be a more common process than we thought.'
(Image: mauxditty via Compfight cc)
'Diamond formation in the deep Earth, the very deep Earth, may be a more common process than we thought.' (Image: mauxditty via Compfight cc)

Diamonds have been the gem of choice for many women; over the years, they have become exceptionally valuable, and a symbol of love. This is the result of a clever marketing campaign by De Beers, and then in the 1940s the slogan “diamonds are forever” sealed the deal. Now, the diamond that sits around your neck or finger may not be as rare as you have been led to believe.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University have discovered diamonds can form far more easily in nature than was previously thought. In the new study that was published in the online journal Nature Communications, it states the results “constitute a new quantitative theory of diamond formation.”

Dimitri A. Sverjensky, a geochemist from Johns Hopkins and author of the study, said:

‘Diamond formation in the deep Earth, the very deep Earth, may be a more common process than we thought,’

but that does not mean it will be easier to find gem-quality diamonds and bring them to market.

By using a chemical model, Sverjensky and doctoral candidate Fang Huang, co-author of the study, were able to show that diamonds could be made by a natural chemical reaction that is much simpler then the two main processes that is currently understood to produce diamonds.

The chemical model has not yet been tested with actual materials, but the model does show that diamonds can actually form with an increase in acidity during interaction between water and rock. The diamonds that are being considered in this study are not going to be used as engagement rings just yet, as most will only be a few microns across, and will not be visible to the unaided eye.

According to Eurek Alert, The common understanding up to now has been that diamonds are formed in the movement of fluid by the oxidation of methane or the chemical reduction of carbon dioxide. Oxidation results in a higher oxidation state, or a gain of electrons. Reduction means a lower oxidation state, and collectively the two are known as “redox” reactions.

Sverjensky said in the statement: “It was always hard to explain why the redox reactions took place.” The reactions require different types of fluids to be moving through the rocks encountering environments with different oxidation states.

In this new research, it has showed that water could produce diamonds when its pH falls naturally and becomes more acidic; this is while it is moving from one type of rock to another. The finding is just one of many in around 25 years that expands scientists’ understanding of how pervasive diamonds may be.

“The more people look, the more they’re finding diamonds in different rock types now. I think everybody would agree there’s more and more environments of diamond formation being discovered.

The study will help to understand the fluid movement in deep Earth, which will help to account for the carbon cycle which life on the planet depends.

“Fluids are the key link between the shallow and the deep Earth,” Sverjensky said. “That’s why it’s important.”

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