Kimberlite

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Kimberlite is a type of potassic volcanic rock best known for sometimes containing diamonds. It is named after the town of Kimberley in South Africa, where the discovery of an 83.5-carat (16.7 g) diamond in 1871 spawned a diamond rush, eventually creating the Big Hole.

Kimberlite occurs in the Earth's crust in vertical structures known as kimberlite pipes. Kimberlite pipes are the most important source of mined diamonds today. The consensus on kimberlites is that they are formed deep within the mantle. Formation occurs at depths between 150 and 450 kilometres (93 and 280 mi), from anomalously enriched exotic mantle compositions, and are erupted rapidly and violently, often with considerable carbon dioxide and other volatile components. It is this depth of melting and generation which makes kimberlites prone to hosting diamond xenocrysts.

Kimberlite has attracted more attention than its relative volume might suggest that it deserves. This is largely because it serves as a carrier of diamonds and garnet peridotite mantle xenoliths to the Earth's surface. Its probable derivation from depths greater than any other igneous rock type, and the extreme magma composition that it reflects in terms of low silica content and high levels of incompatible trace element enrichment, make an understanding of kimberlite petrogenesis important. In this regard, the study of kimberlite has the potential to provide information on the composition of the deep mantle, and melting processes occurring at or near the interface between the cratonic continental lithosphere and the underlying convecting asthenospheric mantle.

Contents

Morphology and volcanology

Kimberlites occur as carrot-shaped, vertical intrusions termed 'pipes'. This classic carrot shape is formed due to a complex intrusive process of kimberlitic magma which inherits a large proportion of both CO2 and H2O in the system, which produces a deep explosive boiling stage that causes a significant amount of vertical flaring (Bergman, 1987). Kimberlite classification is based on the recognition of differing rock facies. These differing facies are associated with a particular style of magmatic activity, namely crater, diatreme and hypabyssal rocks (Clement and Skinner 1985, and Clement, 1982).

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