Article

Nitrogen cycle feedbacks as a control on euxinia in the mid-Proterozoic ocean

  • Nature Communications 4, Article number: 1533 (2013)
  • doi:10.1038/ncomms2511
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Abstract

Geochemical evidence invokes anoxic deep oceans until the terminal Neoproterozoic ~0.55 Ma, despite oxygenation of Earth’s atmosphere nearly 2 Gyr earlier. Marine sediments from the intervening period suggest predominantly ferruginous (anoxic Fe(II)-rich) waters, interspersed with euxinia (anoxic H2S-rich conditions) along productive continental margins. Today, sustained biotic H2S production requires NO3 depletion because denitrifiers outcompete sulphate reducers. Thus, euxinia is rare, only occurring concurrently with (steady state) organic carbon availability when N2-fixers dominate the production in the photic zone. Here we use a simple box model of a generic Proterozoic coastal upwelling zone to show how these feedbacks caused the mid-Proterozoic ocean to exhibit a spatial/temporal separation between two states: photic zone NO3 with denitrification in lower anoxic waters, and N2-fixation-driven production overlying euxinia. Interchange between these states likely explains the varying H2S concentration implied by existing data, which persisted until the Neoproterozoic oxygenation event gave rise to modern marine biogeochemistry.

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Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge funding from the National Environment Research Council NE/I005978/1. We thank Romain Guilbard, Aubrey Zerkle and Stuart Daines for useful comments and the Danish National Research Foundation grant number DNRF53.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Earth System Science Group, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4PS, UK

    • R.A. Boyle
    •  & T.M. Lenton
  2. Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Prospect Place Plymouth PL1 3DH, UK

    • J.R. Clark
  3. School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

    • S.W. Poulton
  4. Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK

    • G. Shields-Zhou
  5. Institute of Biology and The Nordic Centre for Earth Evolution (NordCEE) University of Southern Denmark, Odense M 5230, Denmark

    • D.E. Canfield

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Contributions

R.A.B. developed the hypothesis after discussions with S.W.P., T.M.L. and G.S.-Z. as part of the NE/I005978/1 grant. The model is a modified version of that of D.E.C. (2006), developed by R.A.B. with help from J.R.C. R.A.B., T.M.L. and S.W.P. wrote the paper with contributions from D.E.C. and G.S.-Z.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to R.A. Boyle.

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    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Figures S1-S11, Supplementary Table S1, Supplementary Methods and Supplementary References

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