Estuarine microphytobenthos are frequently exposed to excessively high irradiances. Photoinhibition in microalgae is prevented by various photophysiological responses. We describe here the role of the xanthophyll pigments in photoacclimation. The pigment composition of the microphytobenthos was studied in three European estuaries (Barrow, Ireland; Eden, UK; Tagus, Portugal). Using HPLC-analyses, microscale changes in biomass and pigment composition were monitored over short (hourly) and long (seasonal) time scales. In the Barrow estuary, the biomass of microphytobenthos (measured as chlorophyll a) increased significantly in the top 400-500 µm of the sediment surface within 1 h of emersion; simultaneously, the xanthophyll pool size (diadinoxanthin plus diatoxanthin, dd + dt) almost doubled. A more gradual conversion of dd into dt was observed, with the dt:dd ratio increasing from 0.1 at the start of emersion to 0.3 after 3 h emersion. Similar trends in the dt:dd ratio were observed in the surface sediments of the Eden and the Tagus estuaries. Higher ratios were recorded in the Tagus estuary, which may be explained by higher incident irradiance. In addition, seasonal studies carried out in the Eden and Tagus estuaries showed that the xanthophyll pool size increased by 10% in the summer months. The pool size was highest in the Tagus estuary. Concurrently, high values for the de-epoxidation state were recorded, with values for dt/(dt + dd) 0.35 recorded in the summer. At the Eden, the ratio never exceeded 0.3. The de-epoxidation state was higher in winter than in summer, which was ascribed to the low winter temperatures. During a vertical migration study, a negative relationship between chlorophyll a and the de-epoxidation state was observed. It is suggested that this relationship originates from 'micro-migration' within the biofilm. Migration within the euphotic zone may provide an alternative means for cells to escape photodamage. In this paper, we propose that both xanthophyll cycling and 'micro'-migration play an important role in photoacclimation and it appears that these processes operate in parallel to regulate the photosynthetic response.