Diamonds in ophiolites: Contamination or a new diamond growth environment?

D. Howell, W. L. Griffin, J. Yang, S. Gain, R. A. Stern, J. X. Huang, D. E. Jacob, X. Xu, A. J. Stokes, S. Y. O'Reilly, N. J. Pearson

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67 Citations (Scopus)


For more than 20 years, the reported occurrence of diamonds in the chromites and peridotites of the Luobusa massif in Tibet (a complex described as an ophiolite) has been widely ignored by the diamond research community. This skepticism has persisted because the diamonds are similar in many respects to high-pressure high-temperature (HPHT) synthetic/industrial diamonds (grown from metal solvents), and the finding previously has not been independently replicated. We present a detailed examination of the Luobusa diamonds (recovered from both peridotites and chromitites), including morphology, size, color, impurity characteristics (by infrared spectroscopy), internal growth structures, trace-element patterns, and C and N isotopes. A detailed comparison with synthetic industrial diamonds shows many similarities. Cubo-octahedral morphology, yellow color due to unaggregated nitrogen (C centres only, Type Ib), metal-alloy inclusions and highly negative δC13 values are present in both sets of diamonds. The Tibetan diamonds (n= 3) show an exceptionally large range in δN15 (-5.6 to +28.7‰) within individual crystals, and inconsistent fractionation between {111} and {100} growth sectors. This in contrast to large synthetic HPHT diamonds grown by the temperature gradient method, which have with δN15=0‰ in {111} sectors and +30‰ in {100} sectors, as reported in the literature. This comparison is limited by the small sample set combined with the fact the diamonds probably grew by different processes. However, the Tibetan diamonds do have generally higher concentrations and different ratios of trace elements; most inclusions are a NiMnCo alloy, but there are also some small REE-rich phases never seen in HPHT synthetics. These characteristics indicate that the Tibetan diamonds grew in contact with a C-saturated Ni-Mn-Co-rich melt in a highly reduced environment. The stable isotopes indicate a major subduction-related contribution to the chemical environment. The unaggregated nitrogen, combined with the lack of evidence for resorption or plastic deformation, suggests a short (geologically speaking) residence in the mantle. Previously published models to explain the occurrence of the diamonds, and other phases indicative of highly reduced conditions and very high pressures, have failed to take into account the characteristics of the diamonds and the implications for their formation. For these diamonds to be seriously considered as the result of a natural growth environment requires a new understanding of mantle conditions that could produce them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-295
Number of pages12
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2015
Externally publishedYes


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