OSLO - A type of rock that often bears diamonds has been found in Antarctica for the first time in a hint of mineral riches in the vast, icy continent that is off limits to mining, scientists said on Tuesday.
A 1991 environmental accord banned mining for at least 50 years under the Antarctic Treaty that preserves the continent for scientific research and wildlife, from penguins to seals.
Writing in the journal Nature Communications, an Australian-led team reported East Antarctic deposits of kimberlite, a rare type of rock named after the South African town of Kimberley famed for a late 19th century diamond rush.
"These rocks represent the first reported occurrence of genuine kimberlite in Antarctica," they wrote of the finds around Mount Meredith in the Prince Charles Mountains.
No diamonds were found during the geological work that is allowed on the continent. Kimberlite, a volcanic rock from deep below the Earth's surface, has now been discovered on all continents.
Geologists doubted the find could be commercial, largely due to Antarctica's remoteness, cold and winter darkness. Teal Riley of the British Antarctic Survey said less than 10 per cent of deposits of similar kimberlite were economically viable.
"It's a big leap from here to mining," he told Reuters.
Minerals including platinum, gold, copper, iron and coal have previously been found in Antarctica.