Abstract In a study of the relationship between nonphotochemical quenching of fluorescence and the xanthophyll cycle, we show that the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum exhibits several interesting characteristics. This xanthophyll cycle consists of only one reversible epoxidating/deepoxidating step (diadinoxanthiddiatoxanthin). Diadinoxan-thin, which increases from 8 to 17 molecules/100 chlorophyll a (Chl a) during the ageing of the culture, was present as two separate pools, with a portion (of about 5 molecules/100 Chl a) which was never deepoxidated. Under a defined irradiance, the time necessary to abolish net photosynthesis increases with the pool size of diadinoxanthin available for deepoxidation. A close correlation is found between nonphotochemical quenching and the relative ratio of diatoxanthin until the photosytem II center is inactivated. The photoprotective effect of diadinoxanthin deepoxidation is limited to the phase during which quenching of the minimum fluorescence (F0) develops.