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.
— John N. Clayton © 2020