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Bulk sedimentary nitrogen isotope (δ15Ntot) data have been generated from Lower Jurassic black, carbon-rich shales in the British Isles and northern Italy deposited during the early Toarcian oceanic anoxic event. A pronounced positive δ15Ntot excursion through the exaratum Subzone of the falciferum Zone (defined by characteristic ammonites in the British Isles) broadly correlates with a relative maximum in weight percent total organic carbon and, in some sections, with a negative δ13Corg excursion. Upwelling of a deoxygenated water mass that had undergone partial denitrification is the likely explanation for relative enrichment of δ15Ntot, and parallels may be drawn with Quaternary sediments of the Arabian Sea, Gulf of California, and northwest Mexican margin. The development of Early Toarcian suboxic water masses and consequent partial denitrification is attributed to increases in organic productivity. Approximately coincident phenomena include the following: a relative climatic optimum, realignment of major oceanic current systems, and a possible release of methane gas hydrates from continental margin sediments early in the history of the oceanic anoxic event.