As precious and as sought after as diamonds, we know relatively little about the complex process in which to create these gems of nature. This is mainly because they are generally pushed to the surface – where we can reach them – by volcanic eruptions after deep underground formation. But scientists have now discovered an important element of the most natural diamond formation: sedimentation from the ocean floor.
“One theory was that the salts trapped inside the diamonds came from seawater, but could not be tested,” said lead author and a zoologist at the University of Macquarie University, Australia. Michael Forster told Science Daily. “Our findings suggest that they came from the marine sediments.” Industrial diamonds are made using a lot of artificially pure carbon, which is known as gem diamond. However, stones that look less glamorous, or sharp diamonds that are naturally occurring, have shown traces of the inclusion of tiny liquids containing higher levels of potassium salts than sodium salts. And the signs of salt inside this diamond have confused scientists so far.
By constant recycling of the surface of our planet, known as subduction zones, seabed floodplains can descend deep into the earth, some 12 to 120 miles below the surface. These zones are part of our planet where tectonic plates dip into each other at high speeds. Although humans have successfully drowned 1.5 miles deep in the earth using heavy machinery, we know that temperatures are extremely hot. Once the tectonic plates descend below each other at high rates, landing at the bottom of the ocean mixes with the rocks at high temperatures.
This process releases water that is converted into carbon by dissolving carbon from the organic matter of the ocean floor and other materials in the ocean and the earth. The fluid from this chain reaction then filters through the soil and reacts with the surrounding stones. The final product is a carbon-rich, tube solution in which diamonds are slowly crystallized.
This study, published in the journal Science Information Science, uses highly pressured diamond-making experiments to include oceanic sediments to replicate natural processes and test their theory.
Conditions that were found deep in the earth were replicated inside a small platinum capsule lined with carbon. Scientists then fill in a small container with ground-level ocean floor from the International Ocean Discovery Project, which contains ground-mineral minerals in the peridotite, which is located on the upper part of the earth at the top of the diamond. Pressure in the diamond-shaped region can go up to six gigapascals, which compares Foster to “a whole building standing at your feet.” The smaller capsule is also heated electrically to reach a higher ground temperature such as 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Finally, the capsule was left to settle for about two weeks.
At the end of the experiment, the researchers tested the chemical reaction inside the capsule and found a high proportion of sodium salts of potassium, such as natural fiber diamonds. In this study, scientists have a better understanding of the structure of diamonds naturally in the earth. But few are not sure if the bottom of the ocean is the ultimate answer to the field’s long-standing questions about the soft material of diamonds. Diamond scientist Thomas Stachel explains that the results of the study may not be applicable to ancient diamonds, which were formed billions of years ago when temperatures were much higher on Earth. But for small diamonds, Stach says in the study, “certainly a very good and interesting explanation.”
While research may not hold all the keys to unlocking the mysteries of our precious diamonds, it is a step in the right direction for scientists to discover.
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