The subaerial delta of the Yellow River has undergone a notable reshaping process with drastic changes in erosion and accretion patterns both temporally and spatially. These morphological changes not only have significant impact on the long-term evolution of delta but also pose severe threat to the existing infrastructures adjacent to the eroding delta lobe. This paper presents a data-based study of waves, currents, sediments and subaqueous bedforms including the application of Principal Component Analysis (PCA) to the measured coastal profiles in order to understand qualitative and quantitative processes that are responsible for the observed changes. The results demonstrated that the Yellow River Delta has recently been dominated by recession process due to the reduced sediment supply from the Yellow River in the recent decades. A critical threshold of river sediment discharge was formulated and used to explain the observed morphodynamic processes. It was found that the coast of the Yellow River Delta could be broadly divided into three geomorphic zones: the area near abandoned delta, the estuarine area, and Laizhou Bay. At the nearshore zone of the abandoned delta, waves are the main agent for bed erosion and sediments suspension. The tidal current is effective in transporting suspended sediments and exerts the main control on the depths of the erosion-accretion balance zone on the coastal profiles. The area near the present estuary has seen rapid deposition with the progradation rate being governed by the relative intensity of fluvial and marine processes while the coasts in Laizhou Bay are stable and the particular characteristics of the tidal current field prevent the sediments supplied by the Yellow River from reaching this area. © 2008 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.