The relative contribution of different components to the attenuation of photosynthetically active radiation was determined in the Charlotte Harbor estuarine system based on laboratory and in situ measurements. Agreement between laboratory and in situ measurements of the attenuation coefficient (kt) was good (r2 = 0??92). For all in situ measurements (n = 100), suspended, non-chlorophyll matter accounted for an average of 72% of kt, dissolved matter accounted for 21%, suspended chlorophyll for 4%, and water for the remaining 3%. For individual determinations, suspended non-chlorophyll matter, dissolved matter, suspended chlorophyll, and water, each accounted for as much as 99%, 79%, 21%, and 18% of kt. Attenuation by suspended matter was greatest near the mouth of the northern tidal rivers and was variable over the rest of the estuarine system. Attenuation by dissolved matter was greatest in the brackish tidal rivers and decreased with increasing salinity. Attenuation due to dissolved matter was positively correlated with water color. The source of the color was basin runoff. Wavelength transmittance changed along the salinity gradient. Maximum transmittance shifted from 500 to 600 nm in gulf waters to 650 to 700 nm in colored, brackish waters. Dissolved matter was primarily responsible for the large attenuation at short wavelengths (400-500 nm). ?? 1987.