Current, sea level and bed-load transport are investigated in the Lower Piscataqua River section of the Great Bay Estuary, New Hampshire, USA-a well-mixed and geometrically complex system with low freshwater input, having main channel tidal currents ranging between 0.5 and 2 m s(-1). Current and sea level forced by the M2M4M6 tides at the estuarine mouth are simulated by a vertically averaged, non-linear, time-stepping finite element model. The hydrodynamic model uses a fixed boundary computational domain and accounts for flooding-drying of tidal flats by making use of a groundwater component. Inertia terms are neglected in comparison with pressure gradient and bottom friction terms, which is consistent with the observed principal dynamic balance for this section of the system. The accuracy of hydrodynamic predictions in the study area is demonstrated by comparison with four tidal elevation stations and two cross-section averaged current measurements. Simulated current is then used to model bed-load transport in the vicinity of a rapidly growing shoal located in the main channel of the lower system. Consisting of coarse sand and gravel, the shoal must be dredged every five to eight years. Two approaches are taken-an Eulerian parametric method in which nodal bed-load flux vectors are averaged over the tidal cycle and a Lagrangian particle tracking approach in which a finite number of sediment particles are released and tracked. Both methods yield pathways and accumulations in agreement with the observed shoal formation and the long-term rate of sediment accumulation in the shoal area. (C) 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.