AbstractA baroclinic three-dimensional numerical model for the entire Wadden Sea of the German Bight in the southern North Sea is first assessed by comparison to field data for surface elevation, current velocity, temperature and salinity at selected stations and then used to calculate fluxes of volume and salt inside the Wadden Sea and the exchange between the Wadden Sea and the adjacent North Sea through the major tidal inlets. The model is simulating the reference years 2009-2011. An overview of tidal prisms and residual volume fluxes of the main inlets and their variability is given. In addition, data from an intensive observational campaign in a tidal channel south of the island of Spiekeroog as well as satellite images and observations of sea surface properties from a ship of opportunity are used for the skill assessment. Finally, the intensity of estuarine overturning circulation and its variability in the tidal gullies are quantified and analyzed as function of gravitational and wind straining using various estimates including Total Exchange Flow (TEF). Regional differences between the gullies are assessed and drivers of the estuarine circulation are identified. For some inlets, the longitudinal buoyancy gradient dominates the exchange flow, for some others wind straining is more important. Also the intensity of tidal straining (scaled covariance of eddy viscosity and vertical shear) depends on buoyancy gradient and wind forcing in different ways, depending on local topography, orientation towards the main wind direction and influence by freshwater run-off inside or outside the tidal basin.