Recently, atmospheric humic matter or humic-like substances (HULIS) have been found in the water-soluble fraction of atmospheric aerosol sampled at different locations. Most of these locations were continental, non-urban sites. Therefore, in this work HULIS was studied in urban and marine environments. The atmospheric concentration varied over a wide range from 0.40 to 5.44 mu g m(-3), from the clean marine air (Mace Head, Ireland) to the heavily polluted winter urban atmosphere (Christchurch, New Zealand). In terms of carbon, ratio of HULIS was 19-51% of water-soluble organic carbon, and 10-22% of total carbon. Different spectroscopic techniques were applied for the physico-chemical characterisation of HULIS including relative aromaticity and molecular weight. Specific absorbance was observed to be much less variable than specific fluorescence, and consequently UV-VIS spectroscopy lambda >330 nm was recommended for rapid, semi-quantitative determination of HULIS in the water extracts of atmospheric aerosol. Application of a dual filter sampling system at one of the sampling sites has revealed a significant positive sampling artefact which calls for further systematic studies on this subject, and also supports the idea of a secondary organic aerosol formation mechanism of HULIS. (c) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.