Profiles of lipid-water bilayer dynamics were determined from picosecond time-resolved fluorescence spectra of membrane-embedded BADAN-labeled M13 coat protein. For this purpose, the protein was labeled at seven key positions. This places the label at well-defined locations from the water phase to the center of the hydrophobic acyl chain region of a phospholipid model membrane, providing us with a nanoscale ruler to map membranes. Analysis of the time-resolved fluorescence spectroscopic data provides the characteristic time constant for the twisting motion of the BADAN label, which is sensitive to the local flexibility of the protein-lipid environment. In addition, we obtain information about the mobility of water molecules at the membrane-water interface. The results provide an unprecedented nanoscale profiling of the dynamics and distribution of water in membrane systems. This information gives clear evidence that the actual barrier of membranes for ions and aqueous solvents is located at the region of carbonyl groups of the acyl chains. © 2009 The Author(s).