Nitrogen Concentrations and Isotopic Compositions of Seafloor-Altered Terrestrial Basaltic Glass: Implications for Astrobiology

G. E. Bebout, N. R. Banerjee, M. R.M. Izawa, K. Kobayashi, K. Lazzeri, L. A. Ranieri, E. Nakamura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Observed enrichments of N (and the δ15N of this N) in volcanic glasses altered on Earth's modern and ancient seafloor are relevant in considerations of modern global N subduction fluxes and ancient life on Earth, and similarly altered glasses on Mars and other extraterrestrial bodies could serve as valuable tracers of biogeochemical processes. Palagonitized glasses and whole-rock samples of volcanic rocks on the modern seafloor (ODP Site 1256D) contain 3-18 ppm N with δ15Nair values of up to +4.5‰. Variably altered glasses from Mesozoic ophiolites (Troodos, Cyprus; Stonyford volcanics, USA) contain 2-53 ppm N with δ15N of -6.3 to +7‰. All of the more altered glasses have N concentrations higher than those of fresh volcanic glass (for MORB, <2 ppm N), reflecting significant N enrichment, and most of the altered glasses have δ15N considerably higher than that of their unaltered glass equivalents (for MORB, -5 ± 2‰). Circulation of hydrothermal fluids, in part induced by nearby spreading-center magmatism, could have leached NH4+ from sediments then fixed this NH4+ in altering volcanic glasses. Glasses from each site contain possible textural evidence for microbial activity in the form of microtubules, but any role of microbes in producing the N enrichments and elevated δ15N remains uncertain. Petrographic analysis, and imaging and chemical analyses by scanning electron microscopy and scanning transmission electron microscopy, indicate the presence of phyllosilicates (smectite, illite) in both the palagonitized cracks and the microtubules. These phyllosilicates (particularly illite), and possibly also zeolites, are the likely hosts for N in these glasses. Key Words: Nitrogen - Nitrogen isotope - Palagonite - Volcanic glass - Mars.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)330-342
Number of pages13
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Mars
  • Nitrogen
  • Nitrogen isotope
  • Palagonite
  • Volcanic glass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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