This paper introduces a novel approach to study the biofouling development on gravity driven submerged membrane bioreactor (SMBR). The on-line monitoring of biofilm formation on a flat sheet membrane was conducted non-destructively using optical coherence tomography (OCT), allowing the in-situ investigation of the biofilm structure for 43 d. The OCT enabled to obtain a time-lapse of biofilm development on the membrane under the continuous operation. Acquired real-time information on the biofilm structure related to the change in the flux profile confirming the successful monitoring of the dynamic evolution of the biofouling layer. Four different phases were observed linking the permeate flux with the change of biofilm morphology. In particular, a stable flux of 2.1±0.1 L/m2 h was achieved with the achievement of steady biofilm morphology after 30 d of operation. Biofilm descriptors, such as thickness, biofilm area, macro-porosity and roughness (absolute and relative), were calculated for each OCT acquired scans. Interestingly, relative roughness was correlated with the flux decrease. Furthermore, the precise biofilm morphology obtained from the OCT scans was used in computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation to better understand the role of biofilm structure on the filtration mechanism. © 2016 Elsevier B.V.