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Diamond Formation May Be More Common Than We Thought, Researchers Say

Nov 04, 2015 01:49 PM EST
Diamonds may form under a much simpler process involving natural pH changes.
(Photo : Flickr: Rosana Prada)

Diamonds may not be that rare after all, researchers from Johns Hopkins University reveal in a new study. Although these plentiful diamonds are hard to reach and super tiny, "Diamond formation in the deep Earth, the very deep Earth, may be a more common process than we thought," Dimitri A. Sverjensky, a geochemist at Johns Hopkins said in a recent news release.

Acquiring the precious gems, though, still requires them to be near the Earth's surface. Diamonds are often transported from the deep depths at which they form by a volcanic eruption. It is also important to note that the diamonds researchers are referring to are not those commonly used in engagement rings or other jewelry items. They are actually much smaller and cannot be seen by the naked eye.

In their study, researchers present an alternative model for diamond formation. They propose that the precious stones could actually be born in a simple natural chemical reaction, meaning that diamond formation could happen all the time very deep within the Earth. However, their models have yet to be tested using actual materials.

Currently, diamonds are thought to form under complex chemical reactions known as redox reactions. In this case, there is an exchange of electrons as different kinds of fluids move through rock and oxidize methane or chemically reduce carbon dioxide. This process happens very deep within the Earth under high pressures and temperatures. 

"It was always hard to explain why the redox reactions took place," Sverjensky said in a statement.  

However, according to the researchers' new models, water that becomes more acidic as it moves from one type of rock to another could trigger diamond formation as well, researchers explain their study. 

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

While this may not change the diamonds we wear, their findings shed light on how fluids move deep within the Earth.

"Fluids are the key link between the shallow and the deep Earth," Sverjensky said. "That's why it's important."

The study was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

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