Diamond Exploration and Resource Evaluation of Kimberlites

Kimberlite rocks and deposits are the eruption products of volatile-rich, silica-poor ultrabasic magmas that originate as small-degree mantle melts at depths in excess of 200 km. Many kimberlites are emplaced as subsurface cylindrical-to-conical pipes and associated sills and dykes. Surficial volcanic deposits of kimberlite are rare. Although kimberlite magmas have distinctive chemical and physical properties, their eruption styles, intensities and durations are similar to conventional volcanoes. Rates of magma ascent and transport through the cratonic lithosphere are informed by mantle cargo entrained by kimberlite, by the geometries of kimberlite dykes exposed in diamond mines, and by laboratory-based studies of dyke mechanics. Outstanding questions concern the mechanisms that trigger and control the rates of kimberlite magmatism.

Read More

Kimberlite Volcanology: Transport, Ascent, and Eruption

Kimberlite rocks and deposits are the eruption products of volatile-rich, silica-poor ultrabasic magmas that originate as small-degree mantle melts at depths in excess of 200 km. Many kimberlites are emplaced as subsurface cylindrical-to-conical pipes and associated sills and dykes. Surficial volcanic deposits of kimberlite are rare. Although kimberlite magmas have distinctive chemical and physical properties, their eruption styles, intensities and durations are similar to conventional volcanoes. Rates of magma ascent and transport through the cratonic lithosphere are informed by mantle cargo entrained by kimberlite, by the geometries of kimberlite dykes exposed in diamond mines, and by laboratory-based studies of dyke mechanics. Outstanding questions concern the mechanisms that trigger and control the rates of kimberlite magmatism.

Read More

Dating Kimberlites: Methods and Emplacement Patterns Through Time

Key to deciphering the origin and tectonic setting of kimberlite magmatism is an accurate understanding of when they formed. Although determining absolute emplacement ages for kimberlites is challenging, recent methodological advances have contributed to a current database of >1,000 precisely dated kimberlite occurrences. Several profound findings emerge from kimberlite geochronology: kimberlites were absent in the first half of Earth history; most kimberlites were emplaced during the Mesozoic; kimberlite magma formation may be triggered by a variety of Earth processes (deep mantle plumes, subduction of oceanic lithosphere, continental rifting); and enhanced periods of kimberlite magmatism coincide with supercontinent breakup.

Read More

Kimberlites from Source to Surface: Insights from Experiments

High-pressure experiments are unconvincing in explaining kimberlites as direct melts of carbonated peridotite because the appropriate minerals do not coexist stably at the kimberlite liquidus. High-pressure melts of peridotite with CO2 and H2O have compositions similar to kimberlites only at pressures where conditions are insufficiently oxidizing to stabilize CO2: they do not replicate the high K2O/Na2O of kimberlites. Kimberlite melts may begin their ascent at ≈300 km depth in reduced conditions as melts rich in MgO and SiO2 and poor in Na2O. These melts interact with modified, oxidized zones at the base of cratons where they gain CO2, CaO, H2O, and K2O and lose SiO2. Decreasing CO2 solubility at low pressures facilitates the incorporation of xenocrystic olivine, resulting in kimberlites’ characteristically high MgO/CaO.

Read More

Kimberlites as Geochemical Probes of Earth’s Mantle

Kimberlites are ultrabasic, Si-undersaturated, low Al, low Na rocks rich in CO2 and H2O. The distinctive geochemical character of kimberlite is strongly influenced by the nature of the local underlying lithospheric mantle. Despite this, incompatible trace element ratios and radiogenic isotope characteristics of kimberlites, filtered for the effects of crustal contamination and alteration, closely resemble rocks derived from the deeper, more primitive, convecting mantle. This suggests that the ultimate magma source is sub-lithospheric. Although the composition of primitive kimberlite melt remains unresolved, kimberlites are likely derived from the convecting mantle, with possible source regions ranging from just below the lithosphere, through the transition zone, to the core–mantle boundary.

Read More

What is a Kimberlite? Petrology and Mineralogy of Hypabyssal Kimberlites

Hypabyssal kimberlites are subvolcanic intrusive rocks crystallised from mantle-derived magmas poor in SiO2 and rich in CO2 and H2O. They are complex, hybrid rocks containing significant amounts of mantle-derived fragments, primarily olivine with rare diamonds, set in a matrix of essentially magmatic origin. Unambiguous identification of kimberlites requires careful petrographic examination combined with mineral compositional analyses. Melt inclusion studies have shown that kimberlite melts contain higher alkali concentrations than previously thought but have not clarified the ultimate origin of these melts. Because of the hybrid nature of kimberlites and their common hydrothermal alteration by fluids of controversial origin (magmatic and/or crustal), the composition of primary kimberlite melts remains unknown.

Read More

Kimberlites: From Deep Earth to Diamond Mines

Kimberlites are rare, enigmatic, low-volume igneous rocks. They are highly enriched in magnesium, volatiles (CO2 and H2O) and incompatible trace elements and are thought to be the most deeply derived (>150 km) magmatic rocks on Earth. Kimberlites occur in ancient and thick continental lithosphere, forming intrusive sheets and composite pipes, commonly in clusters. Despite their rarity, kimberlites have attracted considerable attention because they entrain not only abundant mantle fragments but also diamonds, which can provide a uniquely rich picture of the deep Earth. This issue summarises current thinking on kimberlite petrology, geochemistry, and volcanology and outlines the outstanding questions on the genesis of kimberlites and associated diamond mines.

Read More

Interpreting the Carbon Isotope Record of Mass Extinctions

Mass extinctions are global-scale environmental crises marked by the loss of numerous species from all habitats. They often coincide with rapid changes in the stable carbon isotope ratios (13C/12C) recorded in sedimentary carbonate and organic matter, ratios which can indicate substantial inputs to the surface carbon reservoirs and/or changes in the cycling of carbon. Models to explain these changes have provided much fuel for debate on the causes and consequences of mass extinctions. For example, the escape of methane from gas hydrate deposits or the emission of huge volumes of gaseous carbon from large-scale volcanic systems, known as large igneous provinces, may have been responsible for decreases of 13C/12C in sedimentary deposits. In this article, we discuss the challenges in distinguishing between these, and other, alternatives.

Read More

Earth’s Outgassing and Climatic Transitions: The Slow Burn Towards Environmental “Catastrophes”?

On multimillion-year timescales, outgassing from the Earth’s interior provides the principal source of CO2 to the ocean–atmosphere system, which plays a fundamental role in shaping the Earth’s baseline climate. Fluctuations in global outgassing have been linked to icehouse–greenhouse transitions, although uncertainties surround paleo-outgassing fluxes. Here, we discuss how volcanic outgassing and the carbon cycle have evolved in concert with changes in plate tectonics and biotic evolution. We describe hypotheses of driving mechanisms for the Paleozoic icehouse–greenhouse climates and explore how climatic transitions may have influenced past biotic crises and, in particular, how variable outgassing rates established the backdrop for carbon cycle perturbations to instigate prominent mass extinction events.

Read More

Deep Carbon and the Life Cycle of Large Igneous Provinces

Carbon is central to the formation and environmental impact of large igneous provinces (LIPs). These vast magmatic events occur over geologically short timescales and include voluminous flood basalts, along with silicic and low-volume alkaline magmas. Surface outgassing of CO2 from flood basalts may average up to 3,000 Mt per year during LIP emplacement and is subsidized by fractionating magmas deep in the crust. The large quantities of carbon mobilized in LIPs may be sourced from the convecting mantle, lithospheric mantle and crust. The relative significance of each potential carbon source is poorly known and probably varies between LIPs. Because LIPs draw on mantle reservoirs typically untapped during plate boundary magmatism, they are integral to Earth’s long-term carbon cycle.

Read More