ACTRIS results from more than 15 years of consistent development funded by both Member States and the European Commission through the Research Infrastructure programme.

ACTRIS was initiated as an Integrated Initiative in 2011 building on three historical European research collaborations: EARLINET (European Aerosol Research Lidar Network, EU-FP5 and FP6 projects), EUSAAR (European Supersites for Atmospheric Aerosol Research, EU-FP6 project), CREATE (Construction, use and delivery of an European aerosol database, EU-FP5 project), and Cloudnet (started as an EU-FP5 project for observing cloud profiles), to which a new integration of long-term trace-gas observatories was then added. The operations are pursued as part of ACTRIS-IA, funded as a new IA programme by the European Commission in H2020.

The short-lived components of NDACC (Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Composition Change) will be incorporated in the Research Infrastructure ACTRIS, also building on advances made in the NORS programme. Many of the observatories in ACTRIS are collocated with EMEP, GAW and GRUAN sites, and in many cases observations started prior to the mentioned EU projects in quasi-independent initiatives. In addition, a few facilities such as large simulation chambers are proposed as National Facilities, and have been operating for years within the EUROCHAMP projects. The ARISE (Atmospheric Dynamics Research Infrastructure in Europe) project is a design study (FP7 and H2020) aimed at establishing an atmospheric research and data platform to elucidate the dynamics of the middle and upper atmosphere, including the lidar network of NDACC. ACTRIS will build upon ARISE as part of its National Facilities.