Scientists discover nanodiamonds in Greenland ice

( -- University of Maine volcanologist Andrei Kurbatov and glaciologist Paul Mayewski, along with 21 other scientists, coauthored a scientific paper released late last month that details the discovery of a layer of nanodiamonds in the Greenland ice sheet, which has added to a controversy in the scientific community about a possible extraterrestrial impact event that could shed light on why some types of large mammals disappeared around 12,900 years ago.

The paper, which was published in the International Glaciological Society's Journal of Glaciology, Glaciological Society, includes the findings of UMaine scientists Kurbatov and Mayewski, who traveled several times to Greenland more than two years ago to test for the presence of nanodiamonds in the from the Younger Dryas (YD) time period. During the YD era, the climate returned to near-glacial conditions of earlier ice ages. This time period corresponds with the disappearance of animals such as mammoths and saber-toothed tigers.

Although the Greenland paper was only recently published, the nanodiamond discovery was the subject of a February 2009 episode of the PBS television show NOVA. The episode featured Mayewski, the director of UMaine’s Climate Change Institute, and Kurbatov, a CCI faculty member who was the lead author on the paper.

The UMaine scientists and a Danish colleague, Jorgen P. Steffensen, provided expertise related to the flow dynamics along the edge of the , and the chemical analyses required to understand the climatic significance of a section of ice recovered by the team.

A team of co-authors at the University of California, Santa Barbara, University of Oregon and Northern Arizona University tested for and determined the presence of the nanodiamonds, which are smaller than a virus and therefore cannot be seen by the naked eye. Mayewski says this is the first discovery of a heavy concentration of a discreet layer of extraterrestrial matter in the Greenland ice sheet. The amount of nanodiamonds found in the layer is up to 5 million times more concentrated than anything else around it.

Although the paper states the nanodiamonds are present, Mayewskis says the timing of deposition to the ice sheet of the microscopic substance is somewhat unclear.

“The layer could be relatively close to the timing of the Younger Dryas event, but we don’t know exactly when,” Mayewski says. “It could have come before. It could have come at the onset [of the YD]. It could have come a little bit after. We cannot determine the timing definitively.”

One form of nanodiamond found in the sample was lonsdaleite, which is only known to form during high-temperature, high-pressure cosmic events.

The prevailing theories for the disappearance of the animals include climate change and over-hunting by the people of the Clovis culture, who were the first well-documented prehistorical hunters. However, the presence of lonsdaleite and other nanodiamonds in a layer of ice that could have existed in the Younger Dryas provides fuel for a theory, held by some scientists, that an extraterrestrial impact event, such as a meteorite impact and/or an airburst, led to conditions that altered the earth’s climate and sparked the Younger Dryas.

Other scientists and researchers who have examined the Younger Dryas age records in sediments recovered on land, however, recently published a paper that claimed the particles identified as lonsdaleite in the layer were actually a material similar to graphite, called graphene, which would disprove the theory of an extraterrestrial impact. However, the evidence presented in the Greenland paper contradicts that contention as multiple types of analyses all confirm the nanoparticles recovered from the Greenland ice include lonsdaleite and other nanodiamonds, rather than graphene or other minerals.

Some scientists have speculated that the melting of a glacial lake, which would have released fresh water into the North Atlantic and upset the ocean’s circulation, drove down temperatures and sparked the Younger Dryas.

“If the extraterrestrial event did occur at the onset of the YD it could have contributed to this event by providing the smoking gun, so to speak, for the massive freshwater outbursts through destruction of portions of the ice sheet and enhanced melting,” Mayewski said. “Based on our earlier research the YD event is one of a series of abrupt events. The YD would likely have occurred with or without the existence of the proposed extraterrestrial event, but the latter would likely have enhanced the magnitude of the YD.”

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Impact hypothesis loses its sparkle

Provided by University of Maine
Citation: Scientists discover nanodiamonds in Greenland ice (2010, September 8) retrieved 16 June 2019 from
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Sep 08, 2010
Looks like it's back to Greenland again, to retrieve samples which will allow more rigid bracketing of the nanodiamond-producing event. Without being able to provide a definite time for the event,it will be difficult to use it as support for the large mammal extinction.

Sep 08, 2010
I think it would have been nice to have the editors tie this article back to the following article:


The two of them are interesting when read together.

Sep 08, 2010
I agree thermo. I am looking for the article I read recently claiming the nanodiamonds were actually graphene but I cannot find it.

The Graphene article seemed pretty confident they were right and it looks like the nano diamond people are confident they are right too.

Someone has got to be wrong though.

Sep 08, 2010
I think you may be referring to this article:

And this relatively recent one on a similar topic is interesting too:

I wonder if it's possible for environmental processes, not present or greatly minimised in glacial conditions, to have degraded the putative nanodiamonds in other situations?

Sep 08, 2010
On re-reading the first though, you're right that the researchers seem extremely confident, citing other evidential research as largely disproving the impact theory with the lack of nanodiamonds found in their samples as the clincher. Maybe Caliban is right and the timing will prove to be the key?

Sep 09, 2010
Haven't heard this theory mentioned for a while....

'Supernova Explosion May Have Caused Mammoth Extinction'

Sep 09, 2010
"Haven't heard this theory mentioned for a while...."

Possibly because the scenario outlined (a SN 41,000 years ago and 250 ly distant sent several comets to Earth producing multiple extinction events) has been shown to be demonstratively wrong. Supernovae have not been shown to "eject" cometary bodies deep into space at high velocities(they posit a transit time for these bodies at 7000 years travelling at 10,000 kms-1). And, there are no known supernova remnants 250 ly from Earth.

Another claim, "...observations of a radiocarbon increase in tree rings from the time of the nearby historical supernova SN 1006" seems to imply an observed increase in carbon due to the "nearby" SN in 1006. This supernova is located ~7500 ly from Earth, thus negating that claim: http://en.wikiped.../SN_1006

Still, PI Firestone comments "It’s surprising that it works out so well." INCREDIBLY surprising.

Sep 09, 2010
Thanks @malapropism that was the story. Have read it again and this one. Everyone is confident that they have the facts even though the disagree 100%.

The other article at:
http://www.physor...634.html had its comments killed off by strange speculation of miniature brown dwarfs etc. I would rather that got left out of this thread.

Sep 10, 2010
The Great Pyramid records the exact time of this impact event, 10500 BC, the point of impact, North Pole, the amount of Pole Shift that resulted, 28 degrees, and a lot more. But of coarse eye witness evidence will never be allowed into this sad selfish excuse for science.

Sep 10, 2010
"I agree thermo. I am looking for the article I read recently claiming the nanodiamonds were actually graphene but I cannot find it.

The Graphene article seemed pretty confident they were right and it looks like the nano diamond people are confident they are right too.

Someone has got to be wrong though."

Haha, they could all be wrong, and they probably are to at least some degree. Therein lies the problem I have observed so frequently in climate research, where people make limited observations and then make broad assumptions based on them. Garbage in = Garbage out.

Sep 11, 2010
oh crap. the time frame exactly meets the Niburu and 'crossing the galactic plane' crowd's predictions and hypothesis. Don't forget the Mayan calendar too.

Here we go......

Sep 12, 2010
Here we go all right, another closed little mind that likes to ridicule rather than understand. And by the way wise ass, you'll like this, I'm talking about the survivors of Atlantis, who's homeland was sunk when a 50 mile wide meteor peirced Earth's crust at lower right Hudson Bay.

Sep 19, 2010
It never ceases to amaze me how many otherwise brilliant journalists, and scientists, wade into the YD impact debate. And are too darn lazy to read the whole list of wonky assed papers. So they skip to the conclusion blocks of the papers they read, without any idea what's actually in the body of the work. Pinter & Scott did the sample collection on the Daulton paper. Tyrone Daulton did the best he could with the crap samples they gave him. And in spite of the hype, and negative spin, the press leaped on so joyously, they really only challenged the 2009 paper in PNAS by Kennet et al . And in fact, they didn't really sample any of the materials described in the paper they were supposed to be challenging. It's not even clear they sampled the YDB. And their sample collection protocols, and specimen characterization, wouldn't do justice to a high school science fair project. In short, they didn't duplicate the experiment.

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