Nitrogen isotopes in deep time

Colin Mettam, Aubrey L. Zerkle*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for life, and its sources and cycling have varied over earth history. Stable isotope ratios of nitrogen compounds (expressed as δ15N, in ‰) are preserved in the sedimentary record and track these changes, providing important insights into associated biogeochemical feedbacks. Here we review the use of nitrogen stable isotope geochemistry in unravelling the evolution of the global N cycle in deep time. We highlight difficulties with preservation, unambiguous interpretations, and local versus global effects. We end with several case studies illustrating how depositional and stratigraphic context is crucial in reliably interpreting δ15N records in ancient marine sediments, both in ancient anoxic (Archean) and more recent well oxygenated (Phanerozoic) environments.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCambridge Elements
EditorsTimothy Lyons, Alexandra Turchyn, Chris Reinhard
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781108847186
ISBN (Print)9781108810708
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2021

Publication series

NameElements in geochemical tracers in Earth system science
ISSN (Print)2515-6454
ISSN (Electronic)2515-7027


  • Nitrogen isotopes
  • Nutrients
  • Precambrian Earth
  • Early life


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