Dissolved organic matter (DOM) in pore waters from sediments of a number of different depositional environments was isolated by ultrafiltration using membranes with a nominal molecular weight cutoff of 500. This > 500 molecular weight DOM represents 70-98% of the total DOM in these pore waters. We determined the gross chemical structure of this material using both solid-state 13C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and elemental analysis. Our results show that the DOM in these pore waters appears to exist as two major types: one type dominated by carbohydrates and paraffinic structures and the second dominated by paraffinic and aromatic structures. We suggest that the dominance of one or the other structural type of DOM in the pore water depends on the relative oxidizing/reducing nature of the sediments as well as the source of the detrital organic matter. Under dominantly anaerobic conditions carbohydrates in the sediments are degraded by bacteria and accumulate in the pore water as DOM. However, little or no degradation of lignin occurs under these conditions. In contrast, sediments thought to be predominantly aerobic in character have DOM with diminished carbohydrate and enhanced aromatic character. The aromatic structures in the DOM from these sediments are thought to arise from the degradation of lignin. The large amounts of paraffinic structures in both types of DOM may be due to the degradation of unidentified paraffinic materials in algal or bacterial remains. ?? 1987.