Encyclopedia of Paleoclimatology and Ancient Environments

2009 Edition
| Editors: Vivien Gornitz

Nitrogen Isotopes

  • Julian P. Sachs
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-4411-3_151


Nitrogen, element number five in the Periodic Table, is a limiting nutrient to primary production (i.e., plant growth) on the continents and in the ocean (Dugdale and Goering, 1967). Phytoplankton productivity is generally high where fixed (i.e., soluble) nitrogen concentrations are elevated and low where they are diminished. Because primary productivity influences climate, via the uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and is the precursor to petroleum deposits, it is important to understand nitrogen cycling in the environment. The stable isotopes of nitrogen, 14N and 15N, representing, respectively, 99.63% and 0.37% of nitrogen atoms in the solar system, provide a powerful tool for elucidating the processes that transfer nitrogen between reservoirs because many of them cause large isotopic fractionations that can be measured with a mass spectrometer.

The global nitrogen cycle

The largest reservoir of nitrogen on the planet is rocks, which contain 1.9 × 1011 Tg (1012g)...

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© Springer-Verlag 2009

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  • Julian P. Sachs

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