The Coastal Observing System for Northern and Arctic Seas (COSYNA) was established in order to better understand the complex interdisciplinary processes of northern seas and the Arctic coasts in a changing environment. Particular focus is given to the German Bight in the North Sea as a prime example of a heavily used coastal area, and Svalbard as an example of an Arctic coast that is under strong pressure due to global change.The COSYNA automated observing and modelling system is designed to monitor real-time conditions and provide short-term forecasts, data, and data products to help assess the impact of anthropogenically induced change. Observations are carried out by combining satellite and radar remote sensing with various in situ platforms. Novel sensors, instruments, and algorithms are developed to further improve the understanding of the interdisciplinary interactions between physics, biogeochemistry, and the ecology of coastal seas. New modelling and data assimilation techniques are used to integrate observations and models in a quasi-operational system providing descriptions and forecasts of key hydrographic variables. Data and data products are publicly available free of charge and in real time. They are used by multiple interest groups in science, agencies, politics, industry, and the public.