Suspended particulate organic matter (SPOM) both from the oligotrophic Mediterranean and from the more productive Black Sea has been analysed by pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (Py-GC/MS) and by such conventional techniques as elemental analysis and fluorometry. The data achieved by the two approaches generally confirmed and complemented each other. The relative concentrations of pyrolysis products (termed markers) characteristic of chlorophyll (CHL), lipid, carbohydrate (CBH), and protein (PROT) components of SPOM have been determined. The vertical distribution of lipid markers was more uniform in the Mediterranean surface waters. Their relative abundance increased rapidly in the oxycline of the Black Sea, reaching their highest levels in the suboxic zone, where the protein composition of the SPOM changed significantly. In both seas, the relative concentrations of CHL markers increased consistently within the CHL maximum zone where the CBH markers were less abundant. No lignin markers from terrestrial vegetation were detected at significant levels in the pyrograms. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.