The pathways leading to the volatilisation and atmospheric transfer of selenium from oceanic environments are poorly understood. They may however affect the global distribution of selenium and its impact on marine and terrestrial ecosystems. In this paper we describe the results of experiments which provide a reasonable estimate of the global selenium budget. Gaseous selenium compounds were determined in the North Atlantic Ocean during a Spring bloom of phytoplankton species which are known to be a large source of atmospheric sulphur. The results demonstrate that significant concentrations of gaseous selenium species occur in surface ocean waters, and their production is closely linked to the gaseous sulphur species turnover. Selective uptake and biotransformation of dissolved selenium in seawater by phytoplankton is a major pathway for the production of gaseous selenium compounds in marine environments and their emission to the atmosphere. It is therefore suggested that such a major selenium source supplies the terrestrial environment with selenium that can be used as an essential nutrient for animal and human life.