A semianalytical radiance model is developed which predicts the upwelled spectral radiance at the sea surface as a function of the phytoplankton pigment concentration for Morel Case 1 waters. The model is in good agreement with experimental measurements carried out in waters which were not included in the data base used to derive it. It suggests that the observed variability in the radiance is due to variations in the backscattering of plankton and the associated detrital material. The model is extended to include other material in the water, such as dissolved organic material, referred to as yellow substances, and detached coccoliths from coccolithophorids, e.g., Emiliana huxleyi. Potential applications include an improved bio-optical algorithm for the retrieval of pigment concentrations from satellite imagery in the presence of interference from detached coccoliths and an improved atmospheric correction for satellite imagery. The model also serves to identify and to interpret deviations from Case 1 waters.