The removal of natural organic matter (NOM) from lake water was studied in two pilot-scale adsorbers containing granular activated carbon (GAC) with different physical properties. To study the adsorption behavior of individual NOM fractions as a function of time and adsorber depth, NOM was fractionated by size exclusion chromatography (SEC) into biopolymers, humics, building blocks, and low molecular weight (LMW) organics, and NOM fractions were quantified by both ultraviolet and organic carbon detectors. High molecular weight biopolymers were not retained in the two adsorbers. In contrast, humic substances, building blocks and LMW organics were initially well and irreversibly removed, and their effluent concentrations increased gradually in the outlet of the adsorbers until a pseudo-steady state concentration was reached. Poor removal of biopolymers was likely a result of their comparatively large size that prevented access to the internal pore structure of the GACs. In both GAC adsorbers, adsorbability of the remaining NOM fractions, compared on the basis of partition coefficients, increased with decreasing molecular size, suggesting that increasingly larger portions of the internal GAC surface area could be accessed as the size of NOM decreased. Overall DOC uptake at pseudo-steady state differed between the two tested GACs (18.9 and 28.6 g-C/kg GAC), and the percent difference in DOC uptake closely matched the percent difference in the volume of pores with widths in the 1-50 nm range that was measured for the two fresh GACs. Despite the differences in NOM uptake capacity, individual NOM fractions were removed in similar proportions by the two GACs. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.