We present here a high resolution surface water pH dataset obtained in the Northwest European shelf seas in summer 2011. This is the first time that pH has been measured at such a high spatial resolution (10 measurements h–1) in this region. The aim of our paper is to investigate the carbonate chemistry dynamics of the surface water using pH and ancillary data. The main processes controlling the pH distribution along the ship's transect, and their relative importance, were determined using a statistical approach. The study highlights the impact of biological activity, temperature and riverine inputs on the carbonate chemistry dynamics of the shelf seas surface water. For this summer cruise, the biological activity formed the main control of the pH distribution along the cruise transect. Variations in chlorophyll and nutrients explained 29% of the pH variance along the full transect and as much as 68% in the northern part of the transect. In contrast, the temperature distribution explained ca. 50% of the pH variation in the Skagerrak region. Riverine inputs were evidenced by high dissolved organic carbon (DOC) levels in the Strait of Moyle (northern Irish Sea) and the southern North Sea with consequent remineralisation processes and a reduction in pH. The DOC distribution described 15% of the pH variance along the full transect. This study highlights the high spatial variability of the surface water pH in shelf seawaters where a range of processes simultaneously impacts the carbonate chemistry.