AbstractAn international sampling campaign was carried out to comprehensively investigate the occurrence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the marine sediments from the European Baltic and North Seas, Chinese Bohai and Yellow Seas. The concentrations of ∑18PAHs in the samples from these four seas were in the range of 0.91–5361 ng/g dry weight (dw), 0.46–227 ng/g dw, 25.0–308 ng/g dw and 4.3–659 ng/g dw, respectively. 4-rings PAHs, e.g., fluoranthene, pyrene and benzo(b)fluoranthene, were commonly the dominant compounds in all the samples. The PAH sources were identified via composition patterns, diagnostic ratios, principal component analysis (PCA) and positive matrix factorization (PMF). Coal combustion, vehicular emission, coke plant and petroleum residue were apportioned as the main sources in these marine sediments. However, through PMF modeling, different contributions of these sources were quantified to the deposited PAHs in the seas, suggesting distinct anthropogenic impacts on the adjacent marine system. It is note-worthy that biomass combustion may not be the main source of PAHs in the majority of sediments from these seas. This was evidenced by the ratios of naphthalene against its methylated derivatives (i.e. 1-,2-methylnaphthalenes) other than the composition pattern in the samples, of which the approach is in prospect of developing in future studies.