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Deep insights from diamonds: researchers in Bayreuth discover oxidation processes in the Earth’s interior

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University of Bayreuth, Press release No. 013/2018, 25 January 2018

Diamonds have unparalleled value not only for their use in jewellery, but also in geoscientific research. They contain tiny pieces of minerals that help explain chemical processes in the Earth’s interior. An international team including researchers from the University of Bayreuth recently discovered that inclusions of iron-containing garnet are highly oxidized in diamonds that originate at great depths. The scientists published their findings in Nature Geoscience. They suggest that redox reactions between iron and carbon take place in the transition zone and may play a crucial role in the Earth’s deep carbon cycle.


Diamonds preserve the chemical state in the Earth’s interior

Amber is known to contain inclusions of animals and plants that give scientists a biological snapshot of earlier periods in the history of the Earth. In a similar way, diamonds often contain traces of minerals that provide geoscientists with insights into the depths of the Earth. When diamonds grow at such levels, minerals from their environment crystallize with the diamonds and become embedded. The chemical state of the minerals remains unchanged during transport, even if the diamonds make their way through the crust to the Earth’s surface – for example, as part of a volcanic eruption. Such minerals include various types of garnet.

Higher oxidation levels of iron in deeper layers of the Earth

Garnet inclusions were analysed in diamonds known to have originated at various depths between 260 and 500 kilometres below the Earth’s surface. Researchers at the University of Bayreuth’s Bavarian Research Institute of Experimental Geochemistry & Geophysics and the University of Oxford coordinated experiments involving X-ray crystallography and spectroscopy, many of which were carried out at DESY in Hamburg and the ESRF in Grenoble.

They found that the oxidation state of iron in the garnet varied considerably: deeper diamonds showed more highly oxidized iron. The oxidized iron atoms have fewer electrons and therefore must have transferred electrons to their environment at great depths, around 500 kilometres.

New evidence for the Earth’s deep carbon cycle

“We have found strong evidence of redox reactions in the deep Earth where electrons are probably transferred from iron atoms to neighbouring carbon atoms. These processes lead to the production of new diamond crystals,” said Dr. Catherine McCammon of the Bavarian Research Institute of Experimental Geochemistry & Geophysics (BGI). “Through these observations, our data contribute to a better understanding of the Earth’s deep carbon cycle, which ranges from the Earth’s core up to the atmosphere. To a large extent there is only rudimentary information so far,” added Prof. Dr. Leonid Dubrovinsky of the BGI, who initiated the study published in Nature Geoscience.


E S. Kiseeva, D. M. Vasiukov, B. J. Wood, C. McCammon, T. Stachel, M. Bykov, E. Bykova, A. Chumakov, V. Cerantola, J. W. Harris, L. Dubrovinsky: Oxidized iron in garnets from the mantle transition zone, Nature Geoscience (2018),
DOI: 10.1038/s41561-017-0055-7.


PD Dr. Catherine McCammon
Bavarian Research Institute of Experimental Geochemistry & Geophysics (BGI)
University of Bayreuth
Tel.: +49 (0)921 55-3709
E-mail: Catherine.McCammon@uni-bayreuth.de

Prof. Dr. Leonid Dubrovinsky
Bavarian Research Institute of Experimental Geochemistry & Geophysics (BGI)
University of Bayreuth
Telefon: +49 (0)921 / 55 -3736 oder -3707
E-mail: Leonid.Dubrovinsky@uni-bayreuth.de

Editorial Office:

Christian Wißler
Press Contacts
University of Bayreuth
Universitätsstr. 30 / ZUV
95447 Bayreuth
Phone: +49 (0)921 / 55-5356
Email: christian.wissler@uni-bayreuth.de

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