sterol and fatty acid biomarkers and isotopic composition (δ13c and δ15n) of bulk organic matter (om) were quantified in a sediment core to characterize the accumulation of autochthonous om in an area on the continental shelf adjacent to rio de janeiro state. in the sediment surface (0-1 cm) the concentration of total sterols and fatty acids was at least one order of magnitude higher than that measured deeper down in the core and was dominated by labile and planktonic-derived biomarker compounds. these results suggest, as is confirmed by multivariate statistical analysis, the occurrence of an event of enhanced primary production in the water column and efficient export of particles to the bottom. similar conditions have been observed at cabo frio, located 150 km to the north of our study site, during an upwelling event, suggesting that such events may exert a regional influence on primary production on the south-eastern brazilian continental shelf. beyond the signatures from this event, the presence of biomarker compounds from vascular plants suggests the additional influence of an outflow from guanabara bay at the study site. these results point to the need for further investigation of the relative influence of physical forcings and continental inputs on the biogeochemical processes on the section of the continental shelf considered in the present study.