Subduction and Recycling of Nitrogen Along the Central American Margin

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Science  16 Aug 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5584, pp. 1154-1157
DOI: 10.1126/science.1073995

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We report N and He isotopic and relative abundance characteristics of volatiles emitted from two segments of the Central American volcanic arc. In Guatemala, δ15N values are positive (i.e., greater than air) and N2/He ratios are high (up to 25,000). In contrast, Costa Rican N2/He ratios are low (maximum 1483) and δ15N values are negative (minimum –3.0 per mil). The results identify shallow hemipelagic sediments, subducted into the Guatemalan mantle, as the transport medium for the heavy N. Mass balance arguments indicate that the subducted N is efficiently cycled to the atmosphere by arc volcanism. Therefore, the subduction zone acts as a “barrier” to input of sedimentary N to the deeper mantle.

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