They are microscopic plants. You may never see them individually, but they exist by the millions on or near the surface of oceans, lakes, and rivers, even in polar regions. Scientists call them phytoplankton which comes from two Greek words that mean “plant drifter.” We call them oxygen generators.
You can see masses of green phytoplankton on the water surface because of the green chlorophyll they contain. Chlorophyll enables them to use sunlight and nutrients from the water to produce the nourishment they need to live. In the process of photosynthesis, they are oxygen generators. Of course, humans and all animals must have the oxygen to breathe, and phytoplankton play an essential role in our climate by controlling the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
In the ocean, tiny animals called krill eat phytoplankton. In turn, the krill provide the diet for many fish and even for huge baleen whales. Those whales stir up the ocean, bringing to the surface minerals which the phytoplankton need. As whales eat and grow, they take in large amounts of carbon. When they die, their bodies containing the carbon sink to the bottom of the ocean. This well-engineered system helps prevent the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Phytoplankton are incredibly diverse, with thousands of different species. The microscopic photo shows members of one class of phytoplankton known as diatoms. The carcasses of phytoplankton, algae, and other marine plants deposited on the sea beds long ago became the petroleum we use today.
Diatoms produce silicon shells, and when they die, those shells form deep deposits on the ocean floor. People mine those microscopic shells and use them for what we call diatomite or diatomaceous earth used in industry for fine polishing and for filtering liquids. In addition, gardeners sprinkle diatomaceous earth around their plants to protect them from insect pests. Scientists are also exploring uses for those microscopic shells in nanotechnology.
So, in addition to being oxygen generators, these tiny plants produce energy sources for humans and food for creatures of the ocean and freshwater lakes. Without them, our climate would be much different, and life would be difficult, if not impossible. Chance evolution doesn’t seem to be an adequate explanation for diverse phytoplankton. We see them as another example of design by the Master Designer of life.
People have paid much attention to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere because they play a significant role in global warming. The main culprit in the greenhouse gas list is carbon dioxide. Not only do we exhale this gas, but fires of all kinds produce it. With the recent major fires in Australia, there is even more concern about the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But God has given the Earth some tools to counteract greenhouse gases.
The most efficient tool built into the Earth is a microscopic plant called a diatom. There are 12,000 species of diatoms in Earth’s lakes and oceans. Unlike phytoplankton, diatoms are encased in porous, intricately structured silica shells. Examined under a microscope, these silica shells are beautiful, and they are very resistant to change in shape. That means that the spaces between the shells can collect particulate material. So diatoms are used as filtering agents to filter water for swimming pools and as fillers for aerating soils in yards. The shells are used as diatomaceous earth, which is familiar to most of us, especially those who raise roses or tomatoes.
Diatoms can also absorb gases. In the oceans, they absorb massive amounts of carbon dioxide and lock it up in the ocean’s depths. Diatoms capture as much carbon dioxide as all the trees, grasses, and other land plants combined. The fancy latticework of the diatom is not just for humans to admire. Because of the twists and turns of their shells, the surface area of diatoms is much greater than that of smooth shells. The increased surface area maximizes photosynthesis and allows the diatoms greater energy for growth and reproduction.
The life expectancy of a diatom is about six days. Because the silicon is heavy, the diatom at death sinks to the ocean floor or lake, taking carbon with it. One solution to the buildup of carbon dioxide is to catalyze the growth of diatoms. Iron nutrients can do that, and seeding the oceans with iron might be a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Diatoms are one more example of the design built into Earth’s structure to allow the planet to exist over the long haul. While diatoms are not apparent to the human eye, they are tools to counteract greenhouse gases and a possible solution to a modern problem.
Have you ever been in a desert for an extended time? Have you ever taken the sand of a desert and looked at it under a microscope? Have you visited the Great Salt Lake or the Dead Sea? Do you feel that deserts are a wasteland? Science has come to understand something about deserts, oceans, and life that shows wisdom and planning that is beyond our wildest dreams.
We now know that deserts, in general, are dried up lakes. The vast Death Valley desert in the United States (pictured) was a lake at one time. So was the Atacama Desert in Chile, which is now called “the driest place on Earth.” The African Sahara was once the largest lake on Earth called the Mega Chad. Fossil hunting in these deserts reveals the remains of fish and plankton called diatomite. Diatomite is the skeletal remains of microscopic forms of life called diatoms. The skeletons are composed of silicon dioxide, which is a very durable substance and is highly porous and lightweight. These factors make it ideal for the wind to carry. Diatomite also contains phosphorous, which is essential for life to exist. Every living cell needs water and phosphorous, which is the second most abundant mineral in our bodies.
To have rain on the Earth requires water vapor, cool temperatures, and condensation nuclei on which the water can condense. When bodies of water become deserts, the dust contains phosphorus. Wind currents of our planet take the dust from deserts which once were lakes and carry it vast distances. Dust particles become the nuclei for condensation of raindrops that carry water and nutrients to the ground. The deserts of the Sahara maintain life in the Amazon basin. Lightning in the storms produces nitrogen to add to the nutrients. This pattern is repeated in every life-filled system on Earth. The Great Plains of the United States are sustained by the dust and minerals of the Mojave Desert, an old inland sea.