Rock points to potential diamond haul in Antarctica

Updated 29 April 2014
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Rock points to potential diamond haul in Antarctica

PARIS: Australian geologists on Tuesday opened up the tantalizing but controversial prospect that Antarctica could be rich in diamonds.
In a scientific paper published in the journal Nature Communications, a team said they had found a telltale rock called kimberlite in the Prince Charles Mountains in East Antarctica.
No diamonds were found in the samples, taken from Mount Meredith, and the study — focusing only on the region’s geology, not on mining possibilities — was not designed to quantify how many could be there.
But, it said, the mineral’s signature is identical to that in other locations in the world where diamonds have been found.
“The samples are texturally, mineralogically and geochemically typical of Group 1 kimberlites from more classical localities,” said the probe, led by Greg Yaxley at the Australian National University in Canberra.
Kimberlite, a rock that is rarely found near Earth’s surface, is believed to be formed at great depths in the mantle, where conditions are right for forming diamonds — carbon atoms that are squeezed into lattice shapes under extreme pressure and temperature.
The study suggested kimberlite was thrust toward the surface around 120 million years ago, when present-day Africa, the Arabian peninsula, South America, the Indian sub-continent, Australia and Antarctica were glommed together in a super-continent called Gondwana.
Outcrops of kimberlite studded the center of Gondwana at this time.
The component continents then drifted apart, which explains why diamonds have been found in such diverse and distant locations, from Brazil to southern Africa and India, according to this theory.
Independent experts were divided as to whether the discovery could unleash a diamond rush that would ravage the world’s last pristine continent.
A treaty protecting Antarctica was signed in 1961 and was updated with an environmental protocol in 1991 whose Article 7 expressly prohibits “any activity relating to mineral resources.”
The 1991 pact comes up for review in 2048, 50 years after it came into effect following ratification. It has been ratified by 35 nations.
Robert Larter, a geophysicist with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), said “the default assumption” was that the protocol will continue.
“Any change would require agreement of the majority of parties at a review conference, including three-quarters of the states which were Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties at the time of adoption of the protocol,” he said in comments to Britain’s Science Media Center.
Teal Riley, a BAS survey geologist, said the discovery of kimberlite was “not unsurprising” given that the local geology in East Antarctica has a feature called cratons, a telltale of this rock.
“However, even amongst the Group 1 kimberlites, only 10 percent or so are economically viable, so it’s still a big step to extrapolate this latest finding with any diamond mining activity in Antarctica,” where extraction would be tougher and costlier.
But Kevin Hughes, a senior officer at an international panel called the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), was more cautious.
More than three decades from now, “we do not know what the treaty parties’ views will be on mining... or what technologies might exist that could make extraction of Antarctic minerals economically viable,” he said.
“An additional issue is that nations outside the protocol are not bound by its provisions, including the ban on mineral resource activities.”
Kimberlite takes its name from the town of Kimberley, in South Africa, which was created by a diamond rush.
In 1871, a cook found a huge stone while digging on a farm, and within a year 50,000 prospectors were there, digging feverishly and living in a makeshift tented city.


EU adopts powers to respond to cyberattacks

Updated 17 May 2019
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EU adopts powers to respond to cyberattacks

  • The EU can now impose asset freezes and travel bans on individuals, firms and state bodies implicated in cyberattacks
  • Sanctions will be considered if a cyberattack is determined to have had a ‘significant impact’ on its target

BRUSSELS: The European Union on Friday adopted powers to punish those outside the bloc who launch cyberattacks that cripple hospitals and banks, sway elections and steal company secrets or funds.
EU ministers meeting in Brussels said the 28-nation group would now, for the first time, be able to impose asset freezes and travel bans on individuals, firms and state bodies implicated in such attacks.
“The Council (of EU countries) established a framework which allows the EU to impose targeted restrictive measures to deter and respond to cyberattacks,” it said in a statement.
It added that sanctions will be considered if a cyberattack is determined to have had a “significant impact” on its target.
The goal is to bolster the security of EU institutions, firms and individuals against what Britain called an increase in the “scale and severity” of cyberattacks globally.
“This is decisive action to deter future cyberattacks,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said after Britain and its EU partners drafted the measures.
“For too long now, hostile actors have been threatening the EU’s security through disrupting critical infrastructure, attempts to undermine democracy and stealing commercial secrets and money running to billions of euros,” Hunt said.
“Our message to governments, regimes and criminal gangs prepared to carry out cyberattacks is clear,” Britain’s top diplomat added.
“Together, the international community will take all necessary steps to uphold the rule of law and the rules based international system which keeps our societies safe.”
The British government has pledged to continue close cooperation with the EU after it leaves the bloc in line with the 2016 referendum.
Under the sanctions regime, diplomats said, the 28 EU countries would have to vote unanimously to impose sanctions after meeting a legal threshold of significant impact.
For example, countries would look at the scope and severity of disruption to economic and other activities, essential services, critical state functions, public order or public safety, diplomats said.
They would examine the number of people and EU countries affected and determine how much money, intellectual property and data have been stolen.
EU diplomats told reporters it could also cover the hacking of European elections by a third party or country. Elections for a new European Parliament take place May 23-26.
In line with US intelligence assessments, EU officials highlight in particular the threat of disinformation and election hacking from Russia.
EU countries would also study how much the perpetrator has gained through such action.
A Dutch diplomat told reporters that the powers amount to a “big step forward” toward building a more secure cyberspace.
European leaders in October had called for a regime to impose sanctions against cyberattacks.
US and European police said Thursday they have smashed a huge international cybercrime network that used Russian malware to steal 100 million dollars from tens of thousands of victims worldwide.
EU diplomats said the bloc will now start drawing up a blacklist for potential sanctions in cyberattack cases.
A number of powerful people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin appear on a blacklist of 164 Russians and Ukrainians that was established after Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
Those blacklisted are under travel bans and asset freezes just like those that would be imposed on those implicated in cyberattacks.