Nitrogen recycling in subducted oceanic lithosphere: The record in high- and ultrahigh-pressure metabasaltic rocks

Ralf Halama, Gray E. Bebout, Timm John, Volker Schenk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)


This paper provides the first measurements of the nitrogen (N) concentrations and isotopic compositions of high- and ultrahigh-pressure mafic eclogites, aimed at characterizing the subduction input flux of N in deeply subducting altered oceanic crust (AOC). The samples that were studied are from the Raspas Complex (Ecuador), Lago di Cignana (Italy), the Zambezi Belt (Zambia) and Cabo Ortegal (Spain), together representing subduction to 50-90 km depths. The eclogites contain 2-20 ppm N with δ15Nair values ranging from -1 to +8‰. These values overlap those of altered oceanic crust, but are distinct from values for fresh MORB (for the latter, ∼1.1 ppm N and δ15Nair ∼ -4‰). Based on N data in combination with other trace element data, the eclogite suites can be subdivided into those that are indistinguishable from their likely protolith, AOC, with or without superimposed effects of devolatilization (Lago di Cignana, Cabo Ortegal), and those that have experienced metasomatic additions during subduction-zone metamorphism (Zambezi Belt, Raspas). For the former group, the lack of a detectable loss of N in the eclogites, compared to various altered MORB compositions, suggests the retention of N in deeply subducted oceanic crust. The metasomatic effects affecting the latter group can be best explained by mixing with a (meta)sedimentary component, resulting in correlated enrichments of N and other trace elements (in particular, Ba and Pb) thought to be mobilized during HP/UHP metamorphism. Serpentinized and high-pressure metamorphosed peridotites, associated with the eclogites at Raspas and Cabo Ortegal, contain 3-15 ppm N with δ15Nair values ranging from +3 to +6‰, significantly higher than the generally accepted values for the MORB mantle (δ15Nair ∼ -5‰). Based on their relatively high N contents and their homogeneous and positive δ15N values, admixing of sedimentary N is also indicated for the serpentinized peridotites. One possible pathway for the addition of sediment-derived N into eclogites and peridotites involves mixing with fluids along the slab-mantle wedge interface. Alternatively, sedimentary N could be incorporated into peridotites during serpentinization at bending-related faults at the outer rise and, during later deserpentinization, released into fluids that then infiltrate overlying rocks. Deep retention of N in subducting oceanic crust should be considered in any attempt to balance subduction inputs with outputs in the form of arc volcanic gases. If materials such as these eclogites and serpentinized peridotites are eventually subducted to beyond sub-arc depths into the deeper mantle, containing some fraction of their forearc-subarc N inventory (documented here), they could deliver isotopically heavy N into the mantle to potentially be sampled by plume-related magmas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1636-1652
Number of pages17
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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