Hell is Wetter Than Thought: Ice Crystals Found in Super Deep Diamonds

This diamond contains the first evidence of calcium silicate perovskite found in nature. Credit Nester Korolev UBC

The fourth most abundant mineral on the planet, the calcium silicate perovskite, does not exist on the Earth's surface without its structure being destroyed since its proper environment is only inside the mantle of the Earth, at about 700 kilometers in underground.

The rocks can shed light on the deepest parts of Earth's core.

It appears that this diamond is able to offer proof about the oceanic crust, and how it is recycled into the lower mantle. In order to reach the pressures required to form this new form of ice, you'd have to look deep into the mantle where the temperature is too warm for this ice to exist.

The water molecules found in these diamonds were squeezed into a solid form of ice, but they represent briny pools of liquid water that would be trapped in rocks far, far down - below a section of the mantle called the transition zone. Although the availability of such mineral at such depths was theorized, scientists never observed it at the Earth's surface.

"Based on our findings, there could be as much as zetta tonnes (1021) of this perovskite in deep Earth", co-author Graham Pearson, who is a professor in the University of Alberta's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, said in a statement. The only possible way of preserving this mineral at the Earth's surface is when it's trapped in an unyielding container like a diamond.

Researchers have estimated that around 93 percent of the Earth's lower mantle is made up of silicate perovskites.

The rare Earth mineral embedded in the diamond measures only 0.031 millimeters across. While most diamonds are formed at a depth of about 150 to 200 km, this one possibly formed at a depth of at least 700 km, notes the report.

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Researchers found that some diamonds collected from mines in southern Africa and China contained samples of ice VII, reporting their discovery in Science. For diamonds to form they need two basic conditions: extreme heat and extreme pressure.

The diamond's structure managed to protect the CaSiO3 and prevented its crystal lattice from being deformed while the diamond moved to the Earth's surface.

"Diamonds are really unique ways of seeing what's in the Earth". "And the specific composition of the perovskite inclusion in this particular diamond very clearly indicates the recycling of oceanic crust into Earth's lower mantle".

"This gives us a picture of how oceanic plates, plate tectonics and how carbon is cycled into the Earth", he said.

This chunk of the mineral was quite vividly visible to the naked eye and could be easily seen trapped inside the diamond once it was polished.

Luckily there's a solution in nature's own tiny glass elevator - the diamond.

Even though it was previously thought that slabs of Earth's crust sink into the planet's hot interior below bone dry, they could still be bringing surface water down into the mantle with them.

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