Insights from Fossil-Bound Nitrogen Isotopes in Diatoms, Foraminifera, and Corals

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Nitrogen is a major limiting element for biological productivity, and thus understanding past variations in nitrogen cycling is central to understanding past and future ocean biogeochemical cycling, global climate cycles, and biodiversity. Organic nitrogen encapsulated in fossil biominerals is generally protected from alteration, making it an important archive of the marine nitrogen cycle on seasonal to million-year timescales. The isotopic composition of fossil-bound nitrogen reflects variations in the large-scale nitrogen inventory, local sources and processing, and ecological and physiological traits of organisms. The ability to measure trace amounts of fossil-bound nitrogen has expanded with recent method developments. In this article, we review the foundations and ground truthing for three important fossil-bound proxy types: diatoms, foraminifera, and corals. We highlight their utility with examples of high-resolution evidence for anthropogenic inputs of nitrogen to the oceans, glacial-interglacial-scale assessments of nitrogen inventory change, and evidence for enhanced CO2 drawdown in the high-latitude ocean. Future directions include expanded method development, characterization of ecological and physiological variation, and exploration of extended timescales to push reconstructions further back in Earth's history.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Annual Review of Marine Science