Abstract The plankton spring bloom in the northern North Sea was extensively investigated during a period of three months in 1976 at a fixed station occupied by the R.V. “Meteor”. Samples of different depth-profiles, representative of the phytoplankton development, were collected eleven times to analyze the concentration of fatty acids of the particulate matter. The water column was divided into an upper and lower layer according to the thermocline depths, because different processes take place in these layers. During the exponential growth phase the fatty acid concentration rose only slightly due to increases in polyunsaturated fatty acids (18:4, 20:5, 22:6), which are typical for marine plankton. With the exhaustion of nutrients the biochemical composition changed and the fatty acid concentration increased sharply from about 3 to 20 μmol C dm − finally to about 30% of the particulate carbon. The main proportion consisted of oleic acid (28.3%) and palmitic acid (24.2%). The first phytoplankton bloom, dominated by diatoms (Chaetoceros species), was characterized by the increase in fatty acids with 16 carbon atoms, whereas during the second smaller bloom, with dinoflagellates as the main species, more fatty acids with 18 carbon atoms occurred. After the stationary growth phase the phytoplankton biomass strongly decreased, resulting in an increase of particulate matter below the thermocline. The fatty acid pattern there was similar to that during the stationary phase of the phytoplankton bloom in the upper layer.