Abstract A sequential leaching technique has been used to characterize the solid state speciation of total copper (∑Cu) among a number of operationally defined host fractions in surface seawater particulates from the Atlantic Ocean, a diagenetically active hemipelagic sediment core from the eastern Mediterranean, a turbidite - rich sediment core from the Madeira Abyssal Plain and a series of 79 Atlantic Ocean surface or near surface sediments. Around 50% of the ∑Cu in the surface water particulates is held in organic associations. When the material is deposited at the sediment surface, following its entry into the down-column carbon flux, the ∑Cu undergoes phase transformations as the organic carriers are destroyed. However, some of the organically associated copper (Cu 5) is preserved in the sediments, the amount depending on the diagenetic environment of deposition. The relationship between ∑Cu and organic carbon in an oceanic sediment may be masked, but the partitioning speciation data has shown that good correlations can be found between organic carbon and Cu 5. The concentration of Cu 5 in Atlantic Ocean surface sediments is highest in hemipelagic (diagenetically active) sediments deposited in the marginal regions, and lowest in open-ocean (less diagenetically active) sediments of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and ridge flanks. The marginal sediments contain an average of ∼20% of their total Cu in an organic association, with the result that these sediments can act as traps for seawater-derived Cu that would normally be regarded as being ‘reactive’ in the marine environment. To a first approximation, the preservation of Cu 5 in the sediments mimics that of primary production in the overlying waters, and so ‘fingerprints’ the operation of the global ocean carbon flux in oceanic deposits. However, the relationship can be perturbed by the off-shelf transport of organic-rich, Cu 5-containing, turbidites which can result in the transfer and burial of organic copper host fractions in open-ocean oxic environments.