Hell is wetter than you thought: Diamond suggests that beneath the Earth's crust is an 'ocean’s worth of water'

Battered-looking diamond shows the Earth has a rather wet interior

A rare diamond that survived a trip from deep within the Earth's interior may have confirmed some theories that beneath the planet’s crust is an ocean’s worth of water.

In a study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, scientists have found a battered-looking diamond from Brazil actually contains a water-rich inclusion of the olivine mineral ringwoodite, suggesting there is a very large amount of water held in the transition zone of the Earth’s mantle.

Samples from the transition zone are considered to be “exceedingly rare” and are only found in a small number of unusual diamonds, geochemist Hans Keppler said.

Most diamonds form at depths of about 150 to 200 kilometres (90 to 125 miles), but "ultradeep" diamonds come from the transition zone, which is 410 to 660 kilometres below the surface, Graham Pearson, a mantle geochemist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton said.

This particular diamond weighs just one tenth of a gram.

Mr Pearson said their discovery was almost accidental as his team had been looking for another mineral when they paid about $20 (£12) for a three-millimetre-wide brown diamond from the Juina district in Brazil in 2008.

 

His team studied the diamond and discovered a grain 40 micrometres across that turned out to be "ringwoodite" - a high-pressure form of olivine, a mineral that makes up much of the upper mantle of the Earth.

The upper mantle is a layer that lies between the planet’s crust and lower mantle.

Unlike other forms of olivine, ringwoodite can hold a substantial amount of water, meaning the sample could potentially resolve a long-standing debate over just how much water the transition zone contains.

The team found that its tiny speck of ringwoodite contained about 1 per cent  of its weight in water - a significant amount.

“That may not sound like much,” Mr Pearson told Nature News, “but when you realise how much ringwoodite there is, the transition zone could hold as much water as all the Earth’s oceans put together.”

"It's actually the confirmation that there is a very, very large amount of water that's trapped in a really distinct layer in the deep Earth," Mr Pearson added.

However, the results taken from one single crystal may not represent the entire transition zone, according to some scientists.

Speaking to Nature, Norm Sleep, a geophysicist at Stanford University in California compared the situation to panning for gold and discovering a large nugget. “It would be unwise to assume that all the gravel in the stream is gold nuggets,” he countered.

Mr Pearson agreed that further analysis is needed to test his theory, as other studies of the mantle have shown the water content in the transition zone is "spotty", and this sample may have come from one of the wet spots.

But tests could prove difficult because of the very small size of the mantle ringwoodite. “We have to think really carefully on what we do next on this sample because it’s very small: 40 micrometres,” he said. “That means you can only think of doing one or two additional analyses.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas