Aerobic biofilms were found to have a complex structure consisting of microbial cell clusters (discrete aggregates of densely packed cells) and interstitial voids. The oxygen distribution was strongly correlated with these strutures. The voids facilitated oxygen transport from the bulk liquid through the biofilm, supplying approximately 50% of the total oxygen consumed by the cells. The mass transport rate from the bulk liquid is influenced by the biofilm structure; the observed exchange surface of the biofilm is twice that calculated for a simple planar geometry. The oxygen diffusion occurred in the direction normal to the cluster surfaces, the horizontal and vertical components of the oxygen gradients were of equal importance. Consequently, for calculations of mass transfer rates a three-dimensional model is necessary. These findings imply that to accurately describe biofilm activity, the relation between the arrangement of structural components and mass transfer must be undrstood. © 1994 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.