What is diatomite?

Petra Zahajská, Sophie Opfergelt, Sherilyn C. Fritz, Johanna Stadmark, Daniel J. Conley

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


AbstractDifferent types of biogenic remains, ranging from siliceous algae to carbonate precipitates, accumulate in the sediments of lakes and other aquatic ecosystems. Unicellular algae called diatoms, which form a siliceous test or frustule, are an ecologically and biogeochemically important group of organisms in aquatic environments and are often preserved in lake or marine sediments. When diatoms accumulate in large numbers in sediments, the fossilized remains can form diatomite. In sedimentological literature, "diatomite"is defined as a friable, light-coloured, sedimentary rock with a diatom content of at least 50%, however, in the Quaternary science literature diatomite is commonly used as a description of a sediment type that contains a "large"quantity of diatom frustules without a precise description of diatom abundance. Here we pose the question: What is diatomite? What quantity of diatoms define a sediment as diatomite? Is it an uncompacted sediment or a compacted sediment? We provide a short overview of prior practices and suggest that sediment with more than 50% of sediment weight comprised of diatom SiO2 and having high (>70%) porosity is diatomaceous ooze if unconsolidated and diatomite if consolidated. Greater burial depth and higher temperatures result in porosity loss and recrystallization into porcelanite, chert, and pure quartz.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-52
Number of pages5
JournalQuaternary Research
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • Biogenic sediment
  • Diatomaceous ooze
  • Diatomaceous sediment
  • Diatomite
  • Sediment classification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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