Hydrothermal regeneration of ammonium as a basin-scale driver of primary productivity

Eva Elisabeth Stueeken*, K. Kirsimäe, A. Lepland, Tony Prave

*Corresponding author for this work

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Hydrothermal vents are important targets in the search for life on other planets due to their potential to generate key catalytic surfaces and organic compounds for biogenesis. Less well studied, however, is the role of hydrothermal circulation in maintaining a biosphere beyond its origin. Here we explored this question with analyses of organic carbon, nitrogen abundances, and isotopic ratios from the Paleoproterozoic Zaonega Formation (2.0 Ga), NW Russia, which is composed of interbedded sedimentary and mafic igneous rocks. Previous studies have documented mobilization of hydrocarbons, likely associated with magmatic intrusions into unconsolidated sediments. The igneous bodies are extensively hydrothermally altered. Our data reveal strong nitrogen enrichments of up to 0.6 wt.% in these altered igneous rocks, suggesting that the hydrothermal fluids carried ammonium concentrations in the millimolar range, which is consistent with some modern hydrothermal vents. Further, large isotopic offsets of approximately 10 ‰ between organic-bound and silicate-bound nitrogen are most parsimoniously explained by partial biological uptake of ammonium from the vent fluid. Our results, therefore, show that hydrothermal activity in ancient marine basins can provide a locally high flux of recycled nitrogen. Hydrothermal nutrient recycling may thus be an important mechanism for maintaining a large biosphere on anoxic worlds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-212
Number of pages18
Issue number3
Early online date26 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2023


  • Hydrothermal circulation
  • Nitrogen recycling
  • Nutrient limitation
  • Pecambrian


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