In order to better understand the chemical diversity of dissolved organic matter (DOM) in iron-rich mine waters, a variety of sediment pore waters was analysed by means of ultra-high-resolution Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FTICRMS). A considerable number of the DOM elemental formulae were found to contain sulfur. In a rather simplified experiment, DOM was exposed to sunlight in the presence of dissolved ferric iron, which is common in the oxygenated acidified epilimnetic waters of mine pit lakes. The photochemical alteration of the CHOS (carbon-, hydrogen-, oxygen- and sulfur-containing) compounds was then categorised by following the changes in signal intensity of mass peaks. Nearly 20 000 elemental compositions were identified and sorted into the following categories: totally degraded, partially degraded, not significantly degraded, minor new photoproducts, and newly formed photoproducts. A large proportion of the CHOS compounds were found to be entirely degraded; the degradation ratios exceeded those of the CHO compounds. The pools of totally degraded compounds and those of newly formed products were contrasted with respect to photochemically relevant mass differences. These results indicate that photochemical loss of sulfur-containing low molecular weight compounds can be considered likely. One feasible explanation is the photodegradation of sulfonic acids within the CHOS pool eventually leading to the release of sulfate. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.