While diamond mining continues to be carried out today, the number of commercially viable diamond mines that are currently operational has been significantly reduced in the last decades. Diamonds can also be mined alluvially or via secondary deposits. This means that the diamond has already been eroded out of the ground and has been affected by natural external elements such as wind or water.
The formation of diamonds is a result of carbon crystallization by extreme measures deep within the earth. There have also been cases where diamonds have been discovered at the site of a meteor crash. This occurrence can be explained by the fact that a similar process transpires when diamonds are forged in the mantle of the earth over a significant amount of time.
Due to advancements in technology, it has become a possibility for scientists to replicate both colourless and coloured diamonds synthetically. This concept was birthed in an effort to make diamonds a more affordable commodity for industrial use. If you are unsure of whether your diamond is genuine or not, a diamond laboratory can be of assistance in helping you determine such. A diamond laboratory can also perform diamond grading services to evaluate diamond colour, cut, shape, clarity, carat and other characteristics and flaws of the gemstone in question.
Today, natural diamonds have been found in over 35 different countries around the world. The USGS or United States Geological Survey reports that majority of the known natural diamond reserves around the globe are located in South Africa, Botswana, Australia and Congo. The Congo produces the highest number of natural diamonds. This can be attributed to the fact that they also boast the largest number of diamond reserves. Among the 35 different countries that produce diamonds, only 15 possess the technological capability to produce synthetic diamonds. Some of the leading producers of synthetic diamonds include the United States, Russia, Ireland, South Africa and Japan.
Apart from being sold for commercial purposes whether in the form of loose diamonds or diamond jewellery, diamonds are also used in the mining and construction industries. Diamonds can be used as drill bits for machinery. About 88% of all diamonds used for industrial purposes are synthetic while the remaining percentage is composed of natural diamonds. The United States Geological Survey approximate that the World Industrial Diamond Reserves contain about 580 million carats.
Occasionally coloured diamonds can be found through mining. Although approximately only one caret out of a thousand diamonds is coloured, prominent examples of coloured fancy diamonds have been attributed to mines in Africa, India and elsewhere. Diamond colour can be attributable to nitrogen or boron molecules replacing carbon during the crystallization process.
As touched on earlier, there are two ways to mine diamonds. The method is contingent upon the type of deposit. The more common type of deposit is a primary deposit. A primary deposit is usually located near a 'pipe'—a volcanic pathway that serves as a bridge between the earth's deep mantle and its surface. When large quantities of magma are brought forth by violent eruptions from the earth, diamonds also find their way upwards. If the diamonds are suspended in the magma longer than what is considered the optimal timeframe, they either burn up or turn into graphite.
The second way to mine diamonds is by obtaining them from alluvial or secondary deposits. These alluvial deposits are created when the 'pipes' or volcanic pathways mentioned earlier are exposed to weathering and erosion. The diamonds then find themselves in riverbeds or along the ocean shore. Initially, the diamonds are caught in the currents of the ocean but as with most material objects thrown into the ocean, they eventually get washed up on shore by the waves.
When performed in the ocean, diamond mining requires erecting a wall in order to shield the area from the surf. Bulldozing and pumping sand and other marine soil also come hand in hand with the process. The most common type of diamond mining is called pipe mining. It is also the most productive. Pipe mining is considered a type of open pit mining. Here, a vast amount of rocks and materials and other obstructions are removed to make the diamonds more accessible. Pipe mining is not without its environmental repercussions—the process can disturb surrounding ecosystems and there also exists the possibility of damaging the ecosystem due to acid mine drainage.
Efforts to alleviate or avoid environmental damage caused by diamond mining operations involve attempts to restore the landscape back to its original shape. This can be done by refilling the pits and preserving the topsoil so that greenery can be planted on it. Diamond mining has also been challenged with regard to the carbon footprint it creates as it requires a great degree of energy in order to carry out its operations.
In Sierra Leone and other diamond-rich regions in West Africa, the challenges and dangers posed by diamond mining are even more serious as the internal conflict and unrest within governments makes it more difficult to enforce environmental rules and regulations. Pits are sometimes left open and loose fill runs into rivers and streams, causing severe environmental damage due to contamination by chemical compounds.