Finding Diamonds with Zeppelins
The $9 million zeppelin, owned and operated by Bell Geospace, is helping De Beers spot "kimberlite pipes, " volcanic rock formations that might contain diamonds (emphasis on might, as only one in 10 contain diamonds). Kimberlite pipes are hard to spot on the ground, but aerial surveying makes locating them easier.
Use of the zeppelin, in service since November, comes at a pivotal time for De Beers, as the diamond industry is becoming increasingly competitive. Most of Botswana's obvious diamond deposits have been tapped out, and the European Union has broken up much of De Beers' monopolistic advantage. Considering the legacy of dirigible technology, both the scanning technology and the results are so secret that De Beers won't discuss them in depth, and restrict photographs.