The flow of terrestrial groundwater to the sea is an important natural component of the hydrological cycle. This process, however, does not explain the large volumes of low-salinity groundwater that are found below continental shelves. There is mounting evidence for the global occurrence of offshore fresh and brackish groundwater reserves. The potential use of these non-renewable reserves as a freshwater resource provides a clear incentive for future research. But the scope for continental shelf hydrogeology is broader and we envisage that it can contribute to the advancement of other scientific disciplines, in particular sedimentology and marine geochemistry.