Mechanisms of nitrogen isotope fractionation at an ancient black smoker in the 2.7 Ga Abitibi greenstone belt, Canada

A.N. Martin*, E.E. Stüeken, J.A.-S. Michaud, C. Münker, S. Weyer, E.H.P. van Hees, M.M. Gehringer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The biological nitrogen (N) cycle on early Earth is enigmatic because of limited data from Archean (meta-)sediments and the potential alteration of primary biotic signatures. Here we further investigate unusual 15N enrichments reported in 2.7 Ga meta-sediments from the Abitibi greenstone belt, Canada, purportedly related to a 15N-enriched Archean atmosphere. Given that sediments from this region are contemporaneous with large-scale volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits, we utilize Cu and Zn contents to trace the effects of hydrothermal circulation on N isotope fractionation. We show that high δ15Nbulk values as high as +23‰ are associated with Cu-Zn mineralization, whereas unmineralized organic-rich shales exhibit much lower δ15Nbulk and δ15Nkerogen values. Moreover, we find a large offset between δ15Nbulk and δ15Nkerogen of as much as 17‰ and relate this to the addition of organic-bound N during the late-stage emplacement of organic-rich veins. We conclude that the previously reported high δ15N values are most parsimoniously explained by biotic and abiotic mechanisms rather than a 15N-enriched atmosphere. Crucially, both mechanisms require the presence of NH4+ in hydrothermal fluids, supporting the hypothesis that hydrothermal discharge was an important nutrient source for Neoarchean marine life.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberg51689
Number of pages6
Early online date3 Jan 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Jan 2024


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