December 2019 - Volume 15, Number 6

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Kimberlites

Andrea Giuliani and D. Graham Pearson Guest Editors

Table of Contents

Overview

Kimberlites are the most deeply derived of all volcanic rocks, as well as the host rock for most of the world’s diamond mines. Kimberlites, therefore, provide unique snap-shots of magma genesis and mantle evolution in the deep Earth well into the diamond stability field (>150 km and, potentially, >700 km). Despite over 100 years of study, the origin of this complex rock-type remains the subject of intense debate. This thematic issue will summarize current knowledge and controversies on kimberlite formation, including key aspects of the petrology, geochemistry and volcanology of these unique rocks. It will show how kimberlites can be successfully dated, and explore links between the temporal and spatial distribution of kimberlites and known geological events. Diamond exploration and resource evaluation methods will be reviewed to demonstrate the inextricable link between an accurate understanding of the characteristics of kimberlites, their entrained mantle cargo, and diamonds.

  • Kimberlites: From Deep Earth to Diamond Mines
  • What is a Kimberlite? Petrology and Mineralogy of Hypabyssal Kimberlites
  • Kimberlites as Geochemical Probes of Earth's Mantle
  • Kimberlites from Source to Surface: Insights from Experiments
  • Dating Kimberlites: Methods and Emplacement Patterns Through Time
  • Kimberlite Volcanology: Transport, Ascent, and Eruptions
  • Diamond Exploration and Resource Evaluations of Kimberlites
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2020 Topics

Thematic Articles

Kimberlites: From Deep Earth to Diamond Mines

By and

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.

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What is a Kimberlite? Petrology and Mineralogy of Hypabyssal Kimberlites

By , and

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.

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Kimberlites as Geochemical Probes of Earth’s Mantle

By , and

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.

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Kimberlites from Source to Surface: Insights from Experiments

By , and

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.

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Dating Kimberlites: Methods and Emplacement Patterns Through Time

By , and

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.

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Kimberlite Volcanology: Transport, Ascent, and Eruption

By , and

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.

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Diamond Exploration and Resource Evaluation of Kimberlites

By , and

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...