Metabasic rocks as important nitrogen carriers to forearc depths: Implications for deep nitrogen cycling

Ananya Mallik, Anna M. Rebaza, Paul Kapp, Long Li, Yifan Du, Ahmed Al Shams, Emily H.G. Cooperdock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding deep nitrogen (N) cycling better requires investigating the delivery of N to subduction systems via various lithologies. Input to subduction zones through mafic rocks is more voluminous and massive as compared to sedimentary rocks which calls for a thorough investigation of the behavior of N in metabasic rocks. Here we estimate the delivery of N to subduction zones at forearc depths by investigating the geochemistry of amphibolites and epidote-blueschists from the Central Qiangtang Metamorphic Belt in Tibet where the metabasic rocks likely represent the transition from oceanic to continental subduction. The rocks contain 21–147 ppm N with δ15N values from +1.8 ‰ to +10.0 ‰, and 147 ppm N is the highest that has been reported in a metabasic rock thus far. Given the N abundances for most of the rocks are much higher than those of altered oceanic crust (i.e. basalts, sheeted dikes and gabbros; 6.0 ± 4.7 ppm), the N is likely neither magmatic nor was introduced in the rocks during hydrothermal alteration prior to subduction. This is confirmed by the K2O/Th versus Ba/Th, Th/U versus Th and Ba/Rb versus K2O plots where these rocks align with the trend of metamorphic fluid alteration rather than seafloor hydrothermal alteration. A two-step process led to N acquisition in the metabasic rocks. In the first step, the metabasic rocks acquired their N from metasediment-derived fluids during metamorphism in the subduction channel. In the second step, some of the metabasic rocks underwent N loss and concomitant enrichment in 15N due to devolatilization within the subduction channel. We modeled the N fluxes at forearc depths in 55 modern-day subduction zones via metasedimentary and metabasic rocks assuming their minimum, median and maximum N concentrations to assess their relative importance in delivery of N to subduction zones. We find that metabasic rocks supply comparable fluxes of N to metasedimentary rocks at forearc depths, even though metasedimentary rocks have at least an order of magnitude higher N abundance than metabasic rocks. The importance of metabasic rocks in N delivery reinforces the need to investigate the behavior of N in them from more locations globally to improve our understanding of deep N cycling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-275
Number of pages11
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - Nov 15 2023


  • Deep nitrogen cycling
  • Metabasic rocks
  • Metamorphic rocks
  • Subduction zone fluxes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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