Scientific findings from the last decades have clearly highlighted the need for a more comprehensive approach to atmospheric change processes. In fact, observation of atmospheric composition variables has been an important activity of atmospheric research that has developed instrumental tools (advanced analytical techniques) and platforms (instrumented passenger aircrafts, ground-based in situ and remote sensing stations, earth observation satellite instruments) providing essential information on the composition of the atmosphere. The variability of the atmospheric system and the extreme complexity of the atmospheric cycles for short-lived gaseous and aerosol species have led to the development of complex models to interpret observations, test our theoretical understanding of atmospheric chemistry and predict future atmospheric composition. The validation of numerical models requires accurate information concerning the variability of atmospheric composition for targeted species via comparison with observations and measurements. In this paper, we provide an overview of recent advances in instrumentation and methodologies for measuring atmospheric composition changes from space, aircraft and the surface as well as recent improvements in laboratory techniques that permitted scientific advance in the field of atmospheric chemistry. Emphasis is given to the most promising and innovative technologies that will become operational in the near future to improve knowledge of atmospheric composition. Our current observation capacity, however, is not satisfactory to understand and predict future atmospheric composition changes, in relation to predicted climate warming. Based on the limitation of the current European observing system, we address the major gaps in a second part of the paper to explain why further developments in current observation strategies are still needed to strengthen and optimise an observing system not only capable of responding to the requirements of atmospheric services but also to newly open scientific questions. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.