The domain of the surface ocean and lower atmosphere is a complex, highly dynamic component of the Earth system. Better understanding of the physics and biogeochemistry of the air–sea interface and the processes that control the exchange of mass and energy across that boundary define the scope of the Surface Ocean-Lower Atmosphere Study (SOLAS) project. The scientific questions driving SOLAS research, as laid out in the SOLAS Science Plan and Implementation Strategy for the period 2004–2014, are highly challenging, inherently multidisciplinary and broad. During that decade, SOLAS has significantly advanced our knowledge. Discoveries related to the physics of exchange, global trace gas budgets and atmospheric chemistry, the CLAW hypothesis (named after its authors, Charlson, Lovelock, Andreae and Warren), and the influence of nutrients and ocean productivity on important biogeochemical cycles, have substantially changed our views of how the Earth system works and revealed knowledge gaps in our understanding. As such SOLAS has been instrumental in contributing to the International Geosphere–Biosphere Programme (IGBP) mission of identification and assessment of risks posed to society and ecosystems by major changes in the Earth’s biological, chemical and physical cycles and processes during the Anthropocene epoch. SOLAS is a bottom-up organization, whose scientific priorities evolve in response to scientific developments and community needs, which has led to the launch of a new 10-year phase. SOLAS (2015–2025) will focus on five core science themes that will provide a scientific basis for understanding and projecting future environmental change and for developing tools to inform societal decision-making.