We propose that a network of genomic observatories should be established to take the planet's 'biological pulse'. We invite participants to assist in the shaping of this network (see genomicobservatories.org).

DNA sequences are becoming core components of Earth-monitoring systems, and data output is soaring from genomics and other observing technologies. But sequence data alone are of limited value without the context of time and location.

Genomic observatories would integrate genomic information with environmental, socio-ecological and other biological data. Sequencing model ecosystems would accelerate ecological understanding.

Despite reduced sequencing costs, genomic studies are still expensive to analyse and interpret, and the expense of field collection of DNA samples remains incompressible. Genomic observatories would consolidate these efforts.

These observatories must be supported by field stations, marine labs, museums, standards organizations, research networks and sequencing centres. They should be established at existing scientifically important sites.