The relative proportions of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, commonly referred to as the Redfield ratio (106:16:1), have likely varied dramatically through Earth’s history in response to changes in oceanic redox state and nutrient availability. However, there have been few attempts to track long-term secular patterns in the elemental stoichiometry of marine life. We use a sediment reactive-transport (diagenetic) modeling approach to provide new constraints on the elemental stoichiometry of marine ecosystems during Earth’s early history, by simulating environmental conditions associated with the formation and deposition of suites of Archean sedimentary iron and phosphorus-bearing minerals. Our results suggest that siderite formation in porewaters linked to dissimilatory iron reduction but limited formation of authigenic P phases can only be reproduced when C to P ratios in marine biomass are at least 500 (mol/mol), approximately five times higher than the values that characterize the modern ocean. This constraint indicates that Archean oceans were strongly nutrient-limited.

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