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Nitrogen isotopes in ophiolitic metagabbros: A re-evaluation of modern nitrogen fluxes in subduction zones and implication for the early Earth atmosphere

Abstract : Nitrogen contents and isotope compositions together with major and trace element concentrations were determined in a sequence of metagabbros from the western Alps (Europe) in order to constrain the evolution and behavior of N during hydrothermal alteration on the seafloor and progressive dehydration during subduction in a cold slab environment (8 °C/km). The rocks investigated include: (i) low-strain metagabbros that equilibrated under greenschist to amphibolite facies (Chenaillet Massif), blueschist facies (Queyras region) and eclogite facies (Monviso massif) conditions and (ii) highly-strained mylonites and associated eclogitic veins from the Monviso Massif. In all samples, nitrogen (2.6-55 ppm) occurs as bound ammonium ( NH4+) substituting for K or Na-Ca in minerals. Cu concentrations show a large variation, from 73.2 to 6.4 ppm, and are used as an index of hydrothermal alteration on the seafloor because of Cu fluid-mobility at relatively high temperature (>300 °C). In low-strain metagabbros, δ15N values of +0.8‰ to +8.1‰ are negatively correlated with Cu concentrations. Eclogitic mylonites and veins display Cu concentrations lower than 11 ppm and show a δ15N-Cu relationship that does not match the δ15N-Cu correlation found in low-strain rocks. This δ15N-Cu correlation preserved in low-strain rocks is best interpreted by leaching of Cu-N compounds, possibly of the form Cu(NH 3) 22+, during hydrothermal alteration. Recognition that the different types of low-strain metagabbros show the same δ15N-Cu correlation indicates that fluid release during subduction zone metamorphism did not modify the original N and Cu contents of the parent hydrothermally-altered metagabbros. In contrast, the low Cu content present in eclogitic veins and mylonites implies that ductile deformation and veining were accompanied either by a loss of copper or that externally-derived nitrogen was added to the system. We estimate the global annual flux of N subducted by metagabbros as 4.2 (±2.0) × 10 11 g/yr. This value is about half that of sedimentary rocks, which suggests that gabbros carry a significant portion of the subducted nitrogen. The net budget between subducted N and that outgassed at volcanic arcs indicates that ∼80% of the subducted N is not recycled to the surface. On a global scale, the total amount of N buried to the mantle via subduction zones is estimated to be three times higher than that released from the mantle via mid-ocean ridges, arc and intraplate volcanoes and back-arc basins. This implies that N contained in Earth surface reservoirs, mainly in the atmosphere, is progressively transferred and sequestered into the mantle, with a net flux of ∼9.6 × 10 11 g/yr. Assuming a constant flux of subducted N over the Earth's history indicates that an amount equivalent to the present atmospheric N may have been sequestered into the silicate Earth over a period of 4 billion years.
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Submitted on : Friday, March 11, 2022 - 5:59:39 PM
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Vincent Busigny, Pierre Cartigny, Pascal Philippot. Nitrogen isotopes in ophiolitic metagabbros: A re-evaluation of modern nitrogen fluxes in subduction zones and implication for the early Earth atmosphere. GEOCHIMICA ET COSMOCHIMICA ACTA, 2011, 75, pp.7502-7521. ⟨10.1016/j.gca.2011.09.049⟩. ⟨insu-03606428⟩

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