Discovery of a nanodiamond-rich layer in the Greenland ice sheet

Andrei V. Kurbatov, Paul A. Mayewski, Jorgen P. Steffensen, Allen West, Douglas J. Kennett, James P. Kennett, Ted E. Bunch, Mike Handley, Douglas S. Introne, Shane S.Que Hee, Christopher Mercer, Marilee Sellers, Feng Shen, Sharon B. Sneed, James C. Weaver, James H. Wittke, Thomas W. Stafford, John J. Donovan, Sujing Xie, Joshua J. RazinkAdrienne Stich, Charles R. Kinzie, Wendy S. Wolbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


We report the discovery in the Greenland ice sheet of a discrete layer of free nanodiamonds (NDs) in very high abundances, implying most likely either an unprecedented influx of extraterrestrial (ET) material or a cosmic impact event that occurred after the last glacial episode. From that layer, we extracted n-diamonds and hexagonal diamonds (lonsdaleite), an accepted ET impact indicator, at abundances of up to about 5×106 times background levels in adjacent younger and older ice. The NDs in the concentrated layer are rounded, suggesting they most likely formed during a cosmic impact through some process similar to carbon-vapor deposition or high-explosive detonation. This morphology has not been reported previously in cosmic material, but has been observed in terrestrial impact material. This is the first highly enriched, discrete layer of NDs observed in glacial ice anywhere, and its presence indicates that ice caps are important archives of ET events of varying magnitudes. Using a preliminary ice chronology based on oxygen isotopes and dust stratigraphy, the ND-rich layer appears to be coeval with ND abundance peaks reported at numerous North American sites in a sedimentary layer, the Younger Dryas boundary layer (YDB), dating to 12.9±0.1 ka. However, more investigation is needed to confirm this association.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)747-757
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Glaciology
Issue number199
StatePublished - Dec 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth-Surface Processes

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