Diatoms in sedimentary deposits of marine and continental, especially lacustrine, origin have similar nutrient (for example, phosphate, nitrate, and silica) and light requirements; however, their geologic ranges and physiographic environments vary. Marine diatoms range in age from Early Cretaceous to Holocene, and continental diatoms range in age from Eocene to Holocene; however, most commercial diatomites, both marine and lacustrine, were deposited during the Miocene. Marine deposits of commercial value generally
accumulated along continental margins with submerged coastal basins and shelves where wind-driven boundary currents provided the nutrient-rich upwelling conditions capable of supporting a productive diatom habitat. Commercial
freshwater diatomite deposits occur in volcanic terrains associated with events that formed sediment-starved drainage basins, such as the Basin and Range Province, particularly in Nevada. Marine habitats generally are characterized by stable conditions of temperature, salinity, pH, nutrients, and water currents, in contrast to lacustrine habitats, which are characterized by wide variations in these conditions. Marine deposits generally are of higher quality and contain larger resources, owing to their greater areal extent and thickness,
whereas most of the world's known diatomites are of lacustrine origin. Both types of deposit are commonly mined by open-pit methods and subjected to processing designed to remove organic matter, CO2, pore water, and inorganic contaminants in order to produce purified products. The highest
quality diatomites, predominantly from marine sources, are used in filtration, although both types of deposit produce filter grades, and additional end uses include fillers, additives, absorbents, and abrasives.
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Chapter D: With or Without Salt-a Comparison of Marine and Continental-Lacustrine Diatomite Deposits