DOAJ:Earth and Environmental Sciences
DOAJ:Biology and Life Sciences
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AbstractLong-term secular variation in the isotopic composition of seawater fixed nitrogen (N) is poorly known. Here, we document variation in the N-isotopic composition of marine sediments (δ<sup>15</sup>N<sub>sed</sub>) since 660 Ma (million years ago) in order to understand major changes in the marine N cycle through time and their relationship to first-order climate variation. During the Phanerozoic, greenhouse climate modes were characterized by low δ<sup>15</sup>N<sub>sed</sub> (&sim;−2 to +2&permil;) and icehouse climate modes by high δ<sup>15</sup>N<sub>sed</sub> (&sim;+4 to +8&permil;). Shifts toward higher δ<sup>15</sup>N<sub>sed</sub> occurred rapidly during the early stages of icehouse modes, prior to the development of major continental glaciation, suggesting a potentially important role for the marine N cycle in long-term climate change. Reservoir box modeling of the marine N cycle demonstrates that secular variation in δ<sup>15</sup>N<sub>sed</sub> was likely due to changes in the dominant locus of denitrification, with a shift in favor of sedimentary denitrification during greenhouse modes owing to higher eustatic (global sea-level) elevations and greater on-shelf burial of organic matter, and a shift in favor of water-column denitrification during icehouse modes owing to lower eustatic elevations, enhanced organic carbon sinking fluxes, and expanded oceanic oxygen-minimum zones. The results of this study provide new insights into operation of the marine N cycle, its relationship to the global carbon cycle, and its potential role in modulating climate change at multimillion-year timescales.