The Nitrogen Budget of Earth




Johnson, Ben
Goldblatt, Colin

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We comprehensively compile and review N content in geologic materials to calculate a new N budget for Earth. Using analyses of rocks and minerals in conjunction with N-Ar geochemistry demonstrates that the Bulk Silicate Earth (BSE) contains \sim7\pm4 times present atmospheric N (4\times10^18 kg N, PAN), with 27\pm16\times10^18 kg N. Comparison to chondritic composition, after subtracting N sequestered into the core, yields a consistent result, with BSE N between 17\pm13\times10^18 kg to 31\pm24\times10^18 kg N. In the chondritic comparison we calculate a N mass in Earth's core (180\pm110 to 300\pm180\times10^18 kg) and discuss the Moon as a proxy for the early mantle. Significantly, we find the majority of the planetary budget of N is in the solid Earth. The N estimate herein precludes the need for a "missing N" reservoir. Nitrogen-Ar systematics in mantle rocks and basalts identify two mantle reservoirs: MORB-source like (MSL) and high-N. High-N mantle is composed of young, N-rich material subducted from the surface and is identified in OIB and some xenoliths. In contrast, MSL appears to be made of old material, though a component of subducted material is evident in this reservoir as well. Using our new budget, we calculate a {\delta}15N value for BSE plus atmosphere of \sim2\permil. This value should be used when discussing bulk Earth N isotope evolution. Additionally, our work indicates that all surface N could pass through the mantle over Earth history, and the mantle may act as a long-term sink for N. Since N acts as a tracer of exchange between the atmosphere, oceans, and mantle over time, clarifying its distribution in the Earth is critical for evolutionary models concerned with Earth system evolution. We suggest that N be viewed in the same vein as carbon: it has a fast, biologically mediated cycle which connects it to a slow, tectonically-controlled geologic cycle.




Nitrogen, Earth, geochemistry, isotopes, chondrite, core


Johnson, B. & Goldblatt, C. 2015, "The nitrogen budget of Earth", Earth-Science Reviews, vol. 148, pp. 150-173.