Q-mode factor analysis was used to quantitate the distribution of the major aliphatic hydrocarbon (n-alkanes, pristane, phytane) systems in sediments from a variety of marine environments. The compositions of the pure end members of the systems were obtained from factor scores and the distribution of the systems within each sample was obtained from factor loadings. All the data, from the diverse environments sampled (estuarine (San Francisco Bay), fresh-water (San Francisco Peninsula), polar-marine (Antarctica) and geothermal-marine (Gorda Ridge) sediments), were reduced to three major systems: a terrestrial system (mostly high molecular weight aliphatics with odd-numbered-carbon predominance), a mature system (mostly low molecular weight aliphatics without predominance) and a system containing mostly high molecular weight aliphatics with even-numbered-carbon predominance. With this statistical approach, it is possible to assign the percentage contribution from various sources to the observed distribution of aliphatic hydrocarbons in each sediment sample. ?? 1991.