AbstractThe interplay between wind waves and currents in the coastal zone of the southern North Sea along with the resulting changes in the salinity distribution are quantified using simulations with the unstructured-grid ocean model SCHISM coupled with the wind wave model WWM III. Several sensitivity runs, which are carried out to estimate the individual contributions of different physical mechanisms and forcing, demonstrated that the density gradients in the coastal zone reduce tidal current by 18%, whereas the wind waves enhance the circulation in some cases. The latter happens when along-shore wind speed approaches ∼10 m s resulting in long-shore currents following the western Dutch coast and the German Wadden Sea islands. The wave-induced transport of salt leads to changes in the horizontal salinity distribution. These are most pronounced in front of barrier islands where coherent patterns caused by the coupling between tides, surface drift, and wind waves reveal salinity changes up to 0.5. The weak stratification of salinity in the coastal zone is mostly destroyed by wind waves. Thus, effects created by wind waves tend to substantially modify the estuarine circulation. An explanation of these important processes in the coastal zone has been given based on an analysis of the ratio between significant wave height and tidal range. This control-parameter, which is relatively small under mild weather conditions, can exceed unity under strong wind conditions in the coastal zone, thus mixing due to waves becomes dominant. The effect of fresh water fluxes from subterranean estuaries is relatively small and confined only in the vicinity of corresponding sources.