South African diamond provides new clues on Earth's internal processes

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

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

Because diamonds are the most incompressible materials, the ones found deep in the Earth can trap otherwise-unstable materials and allow them to be viewable on the surface.

(Motherboard) A new report published today in Science suggests that pockets of liquid water may exist up to 500 miles beneath Earth's surface-far deeper that previous estimates. Amazingly, the discovery was merely accidental, as Ice VII was found while the scientists were looking for evidence of carbon dioxide.

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Accidental discoveries are by no means a super rare occurrence in science, and it drives home how much there is left to discover about the world around us.

One of the best known diamond researchers in the world, Pearson was also behind the major 2014 discovery of ringwoodite-Earth's fifth most abundant mineral-in a diamond that pointed to a vast reservoir of water bound to silicate rocks in Earth's mantle. It does represent, however, the first and only time we've seen such an arrangement in ice on Earth. This new form of ice, and ice as a whole, is unique in that when pressure increases, the bonds organize themselves in different arrangements rather than squishing together - explains Oliver Tschauner, a professor of geoscience at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a lead author of the study. Increase the pressure once again and the atoms will rearrange themselves into ice-III, then IV, V, VI and VII.

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For example, if you press down hard enough on ice-I, it will transform into ice-II, which has a rhombohedral structure. Ice-VII is unique in that it remains fairly stable even as the pressure continues to increase. But for obvious reasons, it has proven impossible to find a naturally occurring sample of ice VII at the surface. It was found in the form of Ice VII, a high-pressure form of water inside the diamonds. Both of these things are in ample supply within the mantle, which forms most of the structure of Earth. As part of their formation process they will occasionally encapsulate teeny bits of the chemical environment around them in what are called inclusions. And the discoveries have surprised the science enthusiasts much like a recent sight of a mineral trapped within a diamond that is offering some significant evidences.

As soon as the calcium silicate perovskite moves from where it's happy at great depths inside the Earth, it wants to change instantly into some other crystalline form, Pearson said.

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George Rossman, a mineralogist at Caltech who also worked on the study, explained that "Usually the extremely deep minerals that come up to the surface are not stable once they experience low pressures..." But for Tschauner and other scientists, those impurities, known as inclusions have infinite value, as they may hold the key to understanding the inner workings of our planet.

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