Fulvic acids are those components of soil organic matter that remain soluble after a dilute alkaline extract of the soil is acidified to pH 2 (refs 1, 2). This extraction procedure has been applied to marine sediments, and the organic compounds so recovered have been called marine sedimentary fulvic acids. These fulvic acids are thought to form more complex humic substances in marine sediments by condensation reactions3. However, the chemical structural compositions of marine fulvic acids have not been defined sufficiently to allow this precursor relationship to be made. Here NMR spectroscopy is used to identify more clearly the chemical structural components of some marine sedimentary fulvic acids, thus enabling a more useful examination of their relationship to more complex humic substances. ?? 1980 Nature Publishing Group.