Enhanced permafrost warming and increased Arctic river discharges have heightened concern about the input of terrigenous matter into Arctic coastal waters. We used optical operational satellite data from the ocean colour sensor MERIS (Medium-Resolution Imaging Spectrometer) aboard the ENVISAT satellite mission for synoptic monitoring of the pathways of terrigenous matter on the shallow Laptev Sea shelf. Despite the high cloud coverage in summer that is inherent to this Arctic region, time series from MERIS satellite data from 2006 on to 2011 could be acquired and were processed using the Case-2 Regional Processor (C2R) for optically complex surface waters installed in the open-source software ESA BEAM-VISAT. Since optical remote sensing using ocean colour satellite data has seen little application in Siberian Arctic coastal and shelf waters, we assess the applicability of the calculated MERIS C2R parameters with surface water sampling data from the Russian–German ship expeditions LENA2008, LENA2010 and TRANSDRIFT-XVII taking place in August 2008 and August and September 2010 in the southern Laptev Sea. The shallow Siberian shelf waters are optically not comparable to the deeper, more transparent waters of the Arctic Ocean. The inner-shelf waters are characterized by low transparencies, due to turbid river water input, terrestrial input by coastal erosion, resuspension events and, therefore, high background concentrations of suspended particulate matter and coloured dissolved organic matter. We compared the field-based measurements with the satellite data that are closest in time. The match-up analyses related to LENA2008 and LENA2010 expedition data show the technical limits of matching in optically highly heterogeneous and dynamic shallow inner-shelf waters. The match-up analyses using the data from the marine TRANSDRIFT expedition were constrained by several days' difference between a match-up pair of satellite-derived and in situ parameters but are also based on the more stable hydrodynamic conditions of the deeper inner- and the outer-shelf waters. The relationship of satellite-derived turbidity-related parameters versus in situ suspended matter from TRANSDRIFT data shows that the backscattering coefficient C2R_bb_spm can be used to derive a Laptev-Sea-adapted SPM algorithm. Satellite-derived Chl a estimates are highly overestimated by a minimum factor of 10 if applied to the inner-shelf region due to elevated concentrations of terrestrial organic matter. To evaluate the applicability of ocean colour remote sensing, we include the visual analysis of lateral hydrographical features. The mapped turbidity-related MERIS C2R parameters show that the Laptev Sea is dominated by resuspension above submarine shallow banks and by frontal instabilities such as frontal meanders with amplitudes up to 30 km and eddies and filaments with horizontal scales up to 100 km that prevail throughout the sea-ice-free season. The widespread turbidity above submarine shallow banks indicates inner-shelf vertical mixing that seems frequently to reach down to submarine depths of a minimum of 10 m. The resuspension events and the frontal meanders, filaments and eddies indicate enhanced vertical mixing being widespread on the inner shelf. It is a new finding for the Laptev Sea that numerous frontal instabilities are made visible, and how highly time-dependent and turbulent the Laptev Sea shelf is. The meanders, filaments and eddies revealed by the ocean colour parameters indicate the lateral transportation pathways of terrestrial and living biological material in surface waters.