Dissolved organic matter (DOM) in sediment pore water is a complex molecular mixture reflecting various Sources and biogeochemical processes. In order to constrain those sources and processes, molecular variations of pore water DOM in surface sediments from the NW Iberian shelf were analyzed by ultrahigh-resolution Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FT-ICR-MS) and compared to river and marine water column DOM. Weighted average molecular element ratios of oxygen to carbon ((O/C)(wa)) and hydrogen to carbon ((H/C)(wa)) provided general information about DOM sources. DOM in local rivers was more oxygenated ((O/C)(wa) 0.52) and contained less hydrogen ((H/C)(wa) 1.15) than marine pore water DOM (mean (O/C)(wa) 0.50, mean (H/C)(wa) 1.26). The relative abundance of specific compound groups, such as highly oxygenated aromatic compounds or nitrogen-bearing compounds with low H/C ratios, correspond to a high concentration of lignin phenols (160 mu g/g sediment dry weight) and a high TOC/TN ratio (13.3) in the sedimentary organic matter and were therefore assigned to terrestrial sources. The lower degree of unsaturation and a higher relative abundance of nitrogen-bearing compounds in the pore water DOM reflected microbial activity within the sediment. One sampling site on the shelf with a high sediment accumulation, and a humic-rich river sample showed a wide range of sulfur compounds in the DOM, accompanied by a higher abundance of lipid biomarkers for sulfate-reducing bacteria, probably indicating early diagenetic sulfurization of organic matter. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.