A comprehensive data set of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) absorption measurements is analysed in light of tracing the supply and distribution of dissolved organic matter in the Arctic Ocean. Two years of river data from six major Arctic rivers (Kolyma, Lena, Ob, Mackenzie, Yenisei, and Yukon) and measurements from a transect across the Arctic Ocean are presented. The results show that although the Lena River currently dominates the supply of DOC and CDOM, climate change induced increases in base flow discharge will likely increase the contribution of the Yenisei River. Seasonal variations in the spectral characteristics of CDOM in the rivers reflected the shift in the dominant source of organic matter from modern plant litter in the spring freshet to older more degraded material during winter low flow periods. Strong correlations were found between the river loading of CDOM and DOC across the systems studied indicating that in situ CDOM sensors could be used in the future to improve estimates of riverine DOC loading. CDOM in the surface waters of the Eurasian Basin was largely characterised as riverine material although extrapolations to riverine end member concentrations suggested that approximately half the riverine CDOM is removed during its transport across the shelf. In contrast the Canadian Basin surface waters were characterised by a much greater proportion of autochthonous CDOM. These differences in DOM quality in the surface waters of the two basins are hypothesised to also influence the extent to which material is remineralised during its passage through the Arctic Ocean.