Diatoms are among the most globally distributed and ecologically successful organisms in the modern ocean, contributing upwards of 40% of total marine primary productivity1,2. By converting dissolved silicon into biogenic silica, and photosynthetically fixing carbon dioxide into particulate organic carbon, diatoms effectively couple the silicon (Si) and carbon cycles and ballast substantial vertical flux of carbon out of the euphotic zone into the mesopelagic and deep ocean3-5. Viruses are key players in ocean biogeochemical cycles6,7, yet little is known about how viral infection specifically impacts diatom populations. Here, we show that Si limitation facilitates virus infection and mortality in diatoms in the highly productive coastal waters of the California Current Ecosystem. Using metatranscriptomic analysis of cell-associated diatom viruses and targeted quantification of extracellular viruses, we found a link between Si stress and the early, active and lytic stages of viral infection. This relationship was also observed in cultures of the bloom-forming diatom Chaetoceros tenuissimus, where Si stress accelerated virus-induced mortality. Together, these findings contextualize viruses within the ecophysiological framework of Si availability and diatom-mediated biogeochemical cycling.