Four sessions on "Monitoring Strategies: temporal trends in groundwater and surface water quality and quantity" at the EGU conferences in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 and a special issue of <i>HESS</i> form the background for this overview of the current state of high-resolution monitoring of nutrients. The overview includes a summary of technologies applied in high-frequency monitoring of nutrients in the special issue. Moreover, we present a new assessment of the objectives behind high-frequency monitoring as classified into three main groups: (i) improved understanding of the underlying hydrological, chemical, and biological processes (PU); (ii) quantification of true nutrient concentrations and loads (Q); and (iii) operational management, including evaluation of the effects of mitigation measures (M). The contributions in the special issue focus on the implementation of high-frequency monitoring within the broader context of policy making and management of water in Europe for support of EU directives such as the Water Framework Directive, the Groundwater Directive, and the Nitrates Directive. The overview presented enabled us to highlight the typical objectives encountered in the application of high-frequency monitoring and to reflect on future developments and research needs in this growing field of expertise. © Author(s) 2016.