Fluorescent dissolved organic matter (FDOM) in open surface waters (〈 200 m) of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans was analysed by excitation-emission matrix (EEM) spectroscopy and parallel factor analysis (PARAFAC). A four-component PARAFAC model was fit to the EEMs, which included two humic- (C1 and C2) and two amino acid-like (C3 and C4) components previously identified in ocean waters. Generalized-additive models (GAMs) were used to explore the environmental factors that drive the global distribution of these PARAFAC components. The explained variance for the humic-like components was substantially larger (〉 70%) than for the amino acid-like components (〈 35%). The environmental variables exhibiting the largest effect on the global distribution of C1 and C2 were apparent oxygen utilisation followed by chlorophyll a . Positive non-linear relationships between both predictor variables and the two humic-like PARAFAC components suggest that their distribution are biologically controlled. Compared with the dark ocean (〉 200 m), the relationships of C1 and C2 with AOU indicate a higher C1/AOU and C2/AOU ratios of the humic-like substances in the dark ocean than in the surface ocean where a net effect of photobleaching is also detected. C3 (tryptophan-like) and C4 (tyrosine-like) variability was mostly dictated by salinity ( S ), by means of positive non-linear relationships, suggesting a primary physical control of their distributions at the global surface ocean scale that could be related to the changing evaporation-precipitation regime. Remarkably, bacterial biomass (BB) only contributed to explain a minor part of the variability of C1 and C4.