Substantial efforts are underway to realise a network of open-ocean observatories around European Seas that will operate over multiple decades. Some systems are already collecting high-resolution data from surface, water column, seafloor, and sub-seafloor sensors linked to shore by satellite or cable connection in real or near-real time, along with samples and other data collected in a delayed mode. We expect that such observatories will contribute to answering major ocean science questions including: How can monitoring of factors such as seismic activity, pore fluid chemistry and pressure, and gas hydrate stability improve seismic, slope failure, and tsunami warning? What aspects of physical oceanography, biogeochemical cycling, and ecosystems will be most sensitive to climatic and anthropogenic change? What are natural versus anthropogenic changes? Most fundamentally, how are marine processes that occur at differing scales related?
The development of ocean observatories provides a substantial opportunity for ocean science to evolve in Europe. Here we also describe some basic attributes of network design. Observatory networks provide the means to coordinate and integrate the collection of standardised data capable of bridging measurement scales across a dispersed area in European Seas adding needed certainty to estimates of future oceanic conditions. Observatory data can be analysed along with other data such as those from satellites, drifting floats, autonomous underwater vehicles, model analysis, and the known distribution and abundances of marine fauna in order to address some of the questions posed above. Standardised methods for information management are also becoming established to ensure better accessibility and traceability of these data sets and ultimately to increase their use for societal benefit. The connection of ocean observatory effort into larger frameworks including the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) and the Global Monitoring of Environment and Security (GMES) is integral to its success. It is in a greater integrated framework that the full potential of the component systems will be realised.