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 15N, 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.
1. Introduction – Nitrogen in life
2. The δ15N proxy in a nutshell
3. Methods and limitations
4. Case studies
5. Future perspectives.