A remarkable exposure of Miocene marine molasse in western Switzerland records the evolution of a tidal sandwave over a period of approximately 2 1/2 months. The sandwave is composed of tidal ‘bundles’ in which a sandwave reactivation stage and full vortex stage can be recognized for the dominant flow (ebb tide) and a rippled flood apron overlain by high water drape for the reversed flow. Bundle thicknesses vary systematically through neap–spring cycles, with a periodicity of 27 demonstrating the semi-diurnal lunar control of sedimentation. Waves were an additional component, especially when superimposed on flood tides, producing near-symmetrical combined-flow ripple marks in the flood apron.

Tidal current velocities are estimated using critical shear velocities for entrainment, the ripple-dune transition and the dune-plane bed transition. Using appropriate estimates of roughness lengths and a logarithmic velocity law, maximum tidal speeds at 1 m above the bed were approximately 0·6 m sec−1 for ebbs and up to 0·5 m sec−1 for floods. The enhancement by waves of bed shear stress (τwc/τ of approximately 2 for 1 m high waves) under flood currents implies flood tidal velocities closer to 0·2–0·3 m sec−1.

Peak instantaneous bedload sediment transport rates using a modified Bagnold equation are nearly 5 times greater under ebb tides than floods. The average net sediment transport rate at springs (0·04 kg m−1 sec−1) is over 10 times greater than at neaps (0·002 kg m−1 sec−1). Comparison with transport rates in modern tidal environments suggests that the marine molasse of Switzerland was deposited under spatially confined and relatively swift tidal flows not dissimilar to those of the present Dutch tidal estuaries.