Light attenuation (K-d) of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) by chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM), total suspended solids (TSS) and chlorophyll a (Chl a) were measured at nine stations along an estuarine gradient in the Swan River, Western Australia, over 15 months. There were strong spatial gradients associated with the marine-freshwater transition along the 32 km of estuary sampled, as well as seasonal gradients mainly associated with rainfall, similar to 80% of which occurs between May and September. CDOM absorbances at 440 nm reached a maximum of 10.9 m(-1) with the freshwater inflow but concentrations of suspended matter remained low throughout the sampling period (1.0-21.0 mg 1(-1)) under the diurnal tides of the estuary. CDOM was the dominant constituent of Kd and a stepwise multiple regression showed that 66%. (p < 0.0001) of the variation in Kd can be explained by CDOM and an additional 8% (p < 0.0001) by TSS. As a consequence of this result, analysis into the influence of river discharge rates on CDOM absorbance levels was examined for 2002 using data collected during this Study, and for 2000 and 2001 using historical dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and river discharge data. The outcome of this analysis infers that greater river discharge rates result in increased CDOM absorbances in the Swan River estuary. (c) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.