Satellite instruments currently provide global maps of surface UV irradiance by combining backscattered radiance data with radiative transfer models. The models are often limited by uncertainties in physical input parameters of the atmosphere and surface. Global mapping of the underwater UV irradiance creates further challenges for the models. The uncertainties in physical input parameters become more serious because of the presence of absorbing and scattering quantities caused by biological processes within the oceans. We summarize the problems encountered in the assessment of the underwater UV irradiance from space-based measurements, and propose approaches to resolve the problems. We have developed a radiative transfer scheme for computation of the UV irradiance in the atmosphere-ocean system. The scheme makes use of input parameters derived from satellite instruments such as the total ozone mapping spectrometer (TOMS) and sea-viewing wide field-of-view sensor (SeaWiFS). The major problem in assessment of the surface UV irradiance is to accurately quantify the effects of clouds. Unlike the standard TOMS UV algorithm, we use the cloud fraction products available from SeaWiFS and MODIS to calculate instantaneous surface flux at the ocean surface. Daily UV doses can be calculated by assuming a model of constant cloudiness throughout the day. Both SeaWiFS and a moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS) provide some estimates of seawater optical properties in the visible. To calculate the underwater UV flux, the seawater optical properties must be extrapolated down to shorter wavelengths. Currently, the problem of accurate extrapolation of visible data down to the UV spectral range is not solved completely, and there are few available measurements. The major difficulty is insufficient correlation between photosynthetic and photoprotective pigments of phytoplankton absorbing in the visible and UV, respectively. We propose to empirically parameterize seawater absorption in the UV on a basis of available datasets of bio-optical measurements from a variety of ocean waters. Another problem is the lack of reliable data on pure seawater absorption in the UV. Laboratory measurements of the UV absorption of both pure water and pure seawater are required. © 2002 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.