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Diamond Formation

This is a more technical appraisal of diamonds so includes many technical words on this page. Some of this information has been obtained from Wikipedia.

Diamonds are formed by the prolonged exposure of carbon bearing materials to high pressure and temperature. On Earth, the formation of diamonds is possible because there are regions deep within the Earth that are at a high enough pressure and temperature that the formation of diamonds is thermodynamically favorable. Under continental crust, diamonds form starting at depths of about 150 kilometers (90 miles), where pressure is roughly 5 gigapascals and the temperature is around 1200 degrees Celsius (2200 degrees Fahrenheit). Diamond formation under oceanic crust takes place at greater depths because of higher temperatures, which require higher pressure for diamond formation. Long periods of exposure to these high pressures and temperatures allow diamond crystals to grow larger.

The slightly misshapen octahedral shape of this rough diamond crystal in matrix is typical of the mineral. Its lustrous faces also indicate that this crystal is from a primary deposit.

The slightly misshapen octahedral shape of this rough diamond crystal in matrix is typical of the mineral. Its lustrous faces also indicate that this crystal is from a primary deposit.

Through studies of carbon isotope ratios (similar to the methodology used in carbon dating, except with the stable isotopes C-12 and C-13), it has been shown that the carbon found in diamonds comes from both inorganic and organic sources. Some diamonds, known as harzburgitic, are formed from inorganic carbon originally found deep in the Earth's mantle. In contrast, eclogitic diamonds contain organic carbon from organic detritus that has been pushed down from the surface of the Earth's crust through subduction (see plate tectonics) before transforming into diamond. These two different source carbons have measurably different 13C:12C ratios. Diamonds that have come to the Earth's surface are generally very old, ranging from under 1 billion to 3.3 billion years old.

Diamonds occur most often as euhedral or rounded octahedra and twinned octahedra known as macles or maccles. As diamond's crystal structure has a cubic arrangement of the atoms, they have many facets that belong to a cube, octahedron, rhombicosidodecahedron, tetrakis hexahedron or disdyakis dodecahedron. The crystals can have rounded off and unexpressive edges and can be elongated. Sometimes they are found grown together or form double "twinned" crystals grown together at the surfaces of the octahedron. This is all due to the conditions in which they form. Diamonds (especially those from secondary deposits) are commonly found coated in nyf, an opaque gum-like skin ([citation needed]).

Diamonds can also form in other natural high-pressure, high-temperature events. Very small diamonds, known as microdiamonds or nanodiamonds, have been found in impact craters where meteors strike the Earth and create shock zones of high pressure and temperature where diamond formation can occur. Microdiamonds are now used as one indicator of ancient meteorite impact sites.

Diamond-bearing rock is brought close to the surface through deep-origin volcanic eruptions. The magma for such a volcano must originate at a depth where diamonds can be formed, 90 miles (150 km) deep or more (three times or more the depth of source magma for most volcanoes); this is a relatively rare occurrence. These typically small surface volcanic craters extend downward into formations known as volcanic pipes. The pipes contain material that was transported toward the surface by volcanic action, but was not ejected before the volcanic activity ceased. During eruption these pipes are open to the surface, resulting in open circulation; many xenoliths of surface rock and even wood and/or fossils are found in volcanic pipes. Diamond-bearing volcanic pipes are closely related to the oldest, coolest regions of continental crust (cratons). This is because cratons are very thick, and their lithospheric mantle extends to great enough depth that diamonds are stable. Not all pipes contain diamonds, and even fewer contain enough diamonds to make mining economically viable.

The magma in volcanic pipes is usually one of two characteristic types, which cool into igneous rock known as either kimberlite or lamproite. The magma itself does not contain diamond; instead, it acts as an elevator that carries deep-formed rocks (xenoliths), minerals (xenocrysts), and fluids upward. These rocks are characteristically rich in magnesium-bearing olivine, pyroxene, and amphibole minerals which are often altered to serpentine by heat and fluids during and after eruption. Certain indicator minerals typically occur within diamondiferous kimberlites and are used as mineralogic tracers by prospectors, who follow the indicator trail back to the volcanic pipe which may contain diamonds. These minerals are rich in chromium (Cr) or titanium (Ti), elements which impart bright colors to the minerals. The most common indicator minerals are chromian garnets (usually bright red Cr-pyrope, and occasionally green ugrandite-series garnets), eclogitic garnets, orange Ti-pyrope, red high-Cr spinels, dark chromite, bright green Cr-diopside, glassy green olivine, black picroilmenite, and magnetite. Kimberlite deposits are known as blue ground for the deeper serpentinized part of the deposits, or as yellow ground for the near surface smectite clay and carbonate weathered and oxidized portion.

Once diamonds have been transported to the surface by magma in a volcanic pipe, they may erode out and be distributed over a large area. A volcanic pipe containing diamonds is known as a primary source of diamonds. Secondary sources of diamonds include all areas where a significant number of diamonds, eroded out of their kimberlite or lamproite matrix, accumulate because of water or wind action. These include alluvial deposits and deposits along existing and ancient shorelines, where loose diamonds tend to accumulate because of their approximate size and density. Diamonds have also rarely been found in deposits left behind by glaciers (notably in Wisconsin and Indiana); however, in contrast to alluvial deposits, glacial deposits are not known to be of significant concentration and are therefore not viable commercial sources of diamond.

Diamonds can also be brought to the surface through certain processes which may occur when two continental plates collide and deeply formed rock is thrust to the surface, although this phenomenon is less understood and currently assumed to be uncommon.

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