AbstractThis paper addresses the spatial and temporal patterns of drivers for sediment dynamics in coastal areas. The basic assumption is that local processes are dominating. The focus is put on the bed shear stress in the southern part of North Sea giving the basic control for deposition–sedimentation and resuspension–erosion. The wave-induced bed shear stress is formulated using a model based on the concept that the turbulent kinetic energy associated with surface waves is a function of orbital velocity, the latter depending on the wave height and period, as well as on the water depth. Parameters of surface waves are taken from simulations with the wave spectrum model WAM (wave model). Bed shear stress associated with currents is simulated with a 3D primitive equation model, Hamburg Shelf Ocean Model. Significant wave height, bed shear stress due to waves and currents, is subjected to empirical orthogonal functions (EOF) analysis. It has been found that the EOF-1 of significant wave height represents the decrease of significant wave height over the shallows and, due to fetch limitation, along the coastlines. Higher order modes are seesaw-like and, in combination, display a basin-scale rotational pattern centred approximately in the middle of the basin. Similar types of variability is also observed in the second and third EOF of bed shear stress. Surface concentrations of suspended matter derived from MERIS satellite data are analysed and compared against statistical characteristics of bed shear stress. The results show convincingly that the horizontal distribution of sediment can, to a larger extent, be explained by the local shear stress. However, availability of resuspendable sediments on the bottom is quite important in some areas like the Dogger Bank.