THE organic matter found in sedimentary rocks must derive from many sources; not only from ancient primary producers but also from consumers and secondary producers. In all of these organisms, isotope effects can affect the abundance and distribution of 13C in metabolites. Here, by using an improved form of a previously described technique1 in which the effluent of a gas chromatograph is continuously analysed isotopically, we report evidence of the diverse origins of sedimentary organic matter. The record of 13C abundances in sedimentary carbonate and total organic carbon can be interpreted in terms of variations in the global carbon cycle (see ref. 2, for example) Our results demonstrate, however, that isotope variations within sedimentary organic mixtures substantially exceed those observed between samples of total organic carbon3. Resolution of isotope variations at the molecular level offers a new and convenient means of refining views both of localized palaeoenvironments and of control mechanisms within the global carbon cycle.
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