Feb 192017

Diamonds are formed from pure carbon, one of the most abundant elements on planet Earth. Diamonds, even from ancient times, have been sought for their extraordinary hardness (they are the hardest substance known) and their brilliance, especially in the colorless transparent gemstone variety. Ironically the other form of pure carbon is graphite, which is very soft with a soapy feel and a dull gray color. Graphite is commonly the “lead” in a pencil.

A diamond's crystal structure: tetrahedrally bonded carbon atoms crystallized into the diamond lattice, a variation of the face-centered cubic structure.

A diamond's crystal structure: tetrahedrally bonded carbon atoms crystallized into the diamond lattice, a variation of the face-centered cubic structure.

The Mohs Hardness Scale of minerals starts at 1 (talc) and ranges to 10 (diamond). That does not mean that diamonds are ten times harder than talc; mineral number 9 on the Mohs scale is corundum, a class of minerals which includes rubies and sapphires. Diamonds can be from ten to hundreds times harder than corundum. Diamonds themselves vary in hardness; for example, stones from Australia are harder than those found in South Africa.

The four main optical characteristics of diamonds are transparency, luster, dispersion of light, and color. In its pure carbon form, diamond is completely clear and transparent. As in all natural substances, perfection is nearly impossible to find. Inclusions of other minerals and elements cause varying degrees of opacity. The surface of a diamond can be clouded by natural processes, such as the constant tumbling and scraping in the bed of a river.

Luster is the general appearance of a crystal surface in reflected light. Luster of a smooth crystal face of diamond is strong and brilliant. It is intermediate between glass and metal and has its own special term — adamantine.

Relative size of octahedral diamond crystals from 1 to 500 carats. Credit: Modified from Bauer, 1968.

Relative size of octahedral diamond crystals from 1 to 500 carats. Credit: Modified from Bauer, 1968.

The process of white light breaking up into its constituent colors is called dispersion. Diamonds have strong dispersion, which along with their strong luster, causes the beautiful play of colors so often referred to as the “fire” of a diamond.

Gemstone varieties of diamond and imperfections. Yellow or yellowish-brown and even brilliant yellow diamonds have been found. Very rarely, diamonds are blue, black, pale green, pink, violet, and even reddish.

The most famous blue diamond, the Hope Diamond, is intertwined with Colorado’s mining history. Thomas Walsh, discoverer of the rich Camp Bird Mine near Ouray, purchased the Hope Diamond for his wife in the early 1900s; it was later given to his daughter, Evelyn Walsh McLean who wore it almost continuously until the 1940s. The 45.5-carat Hope Diamond now resides at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Diamonds, in their perfect cubic crystal form, occur as isolated octahedral (eight-sided) crystals. Many variations on the cubic form are found in are usually clear and colorless, often containing minor inclusions nature, including twelve-sided crystals and a flattened triangular shape known as a macle. Gemologists recognize three main varieties of diamonds: ordinary, bort, and carbonado. Ordinary diamonds occur as crystals often with rounded faces, from colorless and free from flaws (“the first water” [1]) to stones of variable color and full of flaws. Bort diamonds occur in rounded forms without a good crystal structure. They are generally of inferior quality as a gemstone. Carbonados are black opaque diamonds usually from the Bahia Province of Brazil. They are crystalline but do not possess the mineral cleavage found in ordinary diamonds.

[1] An expression which refers to the highest quality diamonds and has come to mean the highest quality of just about anything. The comparison of diamonds with water dates back to at least the early 17th century, and Shakespeare alludes to it in Pericles, 1607:

Heavenly jewels which Pericles hath lost, Begin to part their fringes of bright gold.
The diamonds of a most praisèd water Doth appear, to make the world twice rich.

Diamonds in the rough, note the regular octahedral forms and trigons (of positive and negative relief) formed by natural chemical etching.

Diamonds in the rough, note the regular octahedral forms and trigons (of positive and negative relief) formed by natural chemical etching.

Feb 172017

The current annual Colorado Mineral and Energy Industry Activities report 2015-16 is now available. Following up on the 2014 report, this report, based on 2015 production data, sketches a comprehensive overview of Colorado’s mineral resource production. Of note is the fact that total value of mineral and energy fuels production in Colorado for 2015 is estimated to be $13.43 billion, a 29% decline from the $18.8 billion production value in 2014. The decline was caused primarily by a precipitous decrease in oil and gas market prices which provide 70% of Colorado mineral resource revenue. Oil and gas production actually registered at all-time highs of 127.6 Mbbl and 1,709 Bcf, respectively.

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Nonfuel mineral production — including metals, industrial minerals, and construction materials — posted a modest 3.9% increase in revenue. Increased production of crushed stone, cement, and sand and gravel aggregate accounted for the increase. With a 2015 production of 21,790 metric tons of molybdenum from two mines, Colorado is the largest molybdenum producer in the U.S. Although just one mine in the state publicly reported gold production in 2015, Colorado remains the third largest producer of the metal in the U.S. as it was in 2014.

Citation: Cappa, James A., Michael K. O’Keefe, James R. Guilinger, and Karen A. Berry. “IS-79 Colorado Mineral and Energy Industry Activities 2015-16.” Mineral and Energy Industry. Information Series. Golden, CO: Colorado Geological Survey, 2016.
Feb 142017

Uranium is a widespread and ubiquitous element. It has a crustal abundance of 2.8 parts per million, slightly more than tin. Primary deposits of uranium tend to concentrate in granitic or alkalic volcanic rocks, hydrothermal veins, marine black shales, and early Precambrian age placer deposits. Secondary (or epigenetic) deposits of uranium are formed later than the surrounding rocks that host the mineral deposit. Uranium is soluble in oxidizing aqueous solutions, especially the U+6 valence state, and can be redistributed from primary source rocks into porous sedimentary rocks and structures by groundwater and form secondary (epigenetic) uranium mineral deposits.

Epigenetic deposits of uranium in sedimentary rocks form the bulk of uranium deposits in Colorado. These include the many mines of the Uravan, Cochetopa, Maybe, and Rifle districts, and other scattered places including the Front Range and Denver Basin. Primary uranium deposits in Colorado occur in hydrothermal veins, especially in the Front Range. Continue reading »

Jan 302017


The earth’s surface can subside because of underground mining when rock is removed at depth. Although subsidence can occur due to hard rock mining, this article only considers the effects of coal mining.

When coal is extracted underground, gravity and the weight of the overlying rock may cause the layers of rock to shift and sink downward into the void left by the removal of the coal. Ultimately, this process can affect the surface, causing the ground to sag and crack and holes to form. Merely an inch of differential subsidence beneath a residential structure can cause several thousand dollars worth of damage.

Subsidence can happen suddenly and without warning. Detailed investigations of an undermined area are needed before development occurs to resolve the magnitude of the subsidence hazard and to determine if safe construction is possible. While investigations after development can determine the extent of undermining and potential subsidence, often, existing buildings cannot be protected against subsidence hazards. The cost of remedial measures is often extremely high. Continue reading »