Interacting river discharge, tidal oscillation, and tropical rainfall across the 22,000 km2 Orinoco delta plain support diverse fresh and brackish water ecosystems. To develop environmental baseline information for this largely unpopulated region, we evaluate major coastal plain, shallow marine, and river systems of northeastern South America, which serves to identify principal sources and controls of water and sediment flow into, through, and out of the Orinoco Delta. The regional analysis includes a summary of the geology, hydrodynamics, sediment dynamics, and geomorphic characteristics of the Orinoco drainage basin, river, and delta system. Because the Amazon River is a major source of sediment deposited along the Orinoco coast, we summarize Amazon water and sediment input to the northeastern South American littoral zone. We investigate sediment dynamics and geomorphology of the Guiana coast, where marine processes and Holocene history are similar to the Orinoco coast. Major factors controlling Orinoco Delta water and sediment dynamics include the pronounced annual flood discharge; the uneven distribution of water and sediment discharge across the delta plain; discharge of large volumes of water with low sediment concentrations through the Rio Grande and Araguao distributaries; water and sediment dynamics associated with the Guayana littoral current along the northeastern South American coast; inflow of large volumes of Amazon sediment to the Orinoco coast; development of a fresh water plume seaward of Boca Grande; disruption of the Guayana Current by Trinidad, Boca de Serpientes, and Gulf of Paria; and the constriction at Boca de Serpientes. ?? 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.