Formation of diamond in the Earth's mantle

Thomas Stachel*, Jeff W. Harris

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Citations (Scopus)


The principal sources of natural diamonds are peridotitic (about 2/3 of diamonds) and eclogitic (1/3) domains located at 140-200km depth in the subcratonic lithospheric mantle. There, diamonds probably form during redox reactions in the presence of melt (likely for eclogitic and lherzolitic diamonds) or under subsolidus conditions in the presence of CHO fluids (likely for harzburgitic diamonds). Co-variations of δ13C and the nitrogen content of diamonds suggest that two modes of formation may have been operational in peridotitic sources: (1)reduction of carbonates, that during closed system fractionation drives diamond compositions to higher δ13C values and lower nitrogen concentrations and (2)oxidation of methane, that in a closed system leads to a trend of decreasing δ13C with decreasing nitrogen. The present day redox state of subcratonic lithospheric mantle is generally too reduced to allow for methane oxidation to be a widespread process. Therefore, reduction of carbonate dissolved in melts and fluids is likely the dominant mode of diamond formation for the Phanerozoic (545Ma-present) and Proterozoic (2.5Ga-545Ma). Model calculations indicate, however, that for predominantly Paleoarchean (3.6-3.2Ga) to Mesoarchean (3.2-2.8Ga) harzburgitic diamonds, methane reduction is the principal mode of precipitation. This suggests that the reduced present day character (oxygen fugacity below carbonate stability) of peridotitic diamond sources may be a secondary feature, possibly acquired during reducing Archean (>2.5Ga) metasomatism. Recycling of biogenic carbonates back into the mantle through subduction only became an important process in the Paleoproterozoic (2.5-1.6Ga) and diamonds forming during carbonate reduction, therefore, may predominantly be post-Archean in age. For eclogitic diamonds, open system fractionation processes involving separation of a CO2 fluid appear to dominate, but in principal the same two modes of formation (methane oxidation, carbonate reduction) may have operated. Direct conversion of graphitized subducted organic matter is not considered to be an important process for the formation of eclogitic diamonds. The possible derivation of 12C enriched carbon in eclogitic diamonds from remobilized former organic matter is, however, feasible in some cases and seems likely involved, for example, in the formation of sublithospheric eclogitic diamonds from the former Jagersfontein Mine (South Africa).

Original languageEnglish
Article number364206
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Physics Condensed Matter
Issue number36
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


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