Investigating the variations in carbon and nitrogen isotopes in carbonaceous chondrites

Sephton, M.A.; Verchovsky, A.B.; Bland, P.A.; Gilmour, I.; Grady, M.M. and Wright, I.P. (2003). Investigating the variations in carbon and nitrogen isotopes in carbonaceous chondrites. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 67(11) pp. 2093–2108.



The carbonaceous chondrites contain significant amounts of carbon- and nitrogen-bearing components, the most abundant of which is organic matter. Stepped combustion data of whole rock and HF/HCl residues of carbonaceous chondrites reveal that the organic material can be subdivided operationally into three components: (1) free organic matter (FOM), which is readily extractable from whole-rock meteorites and is enriched in 13C and 15N; (2) labile organic matter (LOM), which has a macromolecular structure but is liberated by hydrous pyrolysis; LOM is the parent structure for some FOM and is also enriched in 13C and 15N; and (3) refractory organic matter (ROM), which is also macromolecular but is virtually unaffected by hydrous pyrolysis and is relatively depleted in 13C and 15N. The macromolecular entities (LOM and ROM) are by far the most abundant organic components present, and as such, the relative abundances of the 13C- and 15N-enriched LOM and the 13C- and 15N-depleted ROM will have a major influence on the overall isotopic composition of the whole-rock meteorite. Laboratory experiments designed to simulate the effects of parent body aqueous alteration indicate that this form of processing removes LOM from the macromolecular material, allowing ROM to exert a stronger influence on the overall isotopic compositions. Hence, aqueous alteration of macromolecular materials on the meteorite parent body may have a significant control on the stable isotopic compositions of whole-rock carbonaceous chondrites. The enstatite chondrites are also carbon rich but have been subjected to high levels of thermal metamorphism on their parent body. Stepped combustion data of HF/HCl residues of enstatite chondrites indicate, that if they and carbonaceous chondrites inherited a common organic progenitor, metamorphism under reducing conditions appears to incorporate and preserve some of the 13C enrichments in LOM during graphitisation. However, when metamorphism is at its most extreme, the 15N enrichments in LOM are lost.

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