Diatoms are water-bound, single-celled symmetrical organisms that harness the power of the sun to create oxygen. They are responsible for generating for 1/3 of the air we breathe. They are encapsulated in silica. Their glass shells – all that remains from the diatom– are used by scientists today to see what was as they research the environmental issues that will shape our tomorrow.
Scientists—and artists—can determine the past salinity of water by examining the shells of diatoms preserved in sedimentary core samples. Each diatom species has a different salinity preference, so changes in the mixture of fresh and sea water (driven by sea level and changes in water management) can be inferred from past diatom remains.