The original goal of the CARINA (Carbon in Atlantic Ocean) data synthesis project was to create a merged calibrated data set from open ocean subsurface measurements by European scientists that would be generally useful for biogeochemical investigations in the North Atlantic and in particular, studies involving the carbon system. Over time the geographic extent expanded to include the entire Atlantic, the Arctic and the Southern Ocean and the international collaboration broadened significantly. In this paper we give a brief history of the project, a general overview of data included and an outline of the procedures used during the synthesis. The end result of this project was a set of 3 data products, one for each of the listed ocean regions. It is critical that anyone who uses any of the CARINA data products recognize that the data products are not simply concatenations of the originally measured values. Rather, the data have been through an extensive calibration procedure designed to remove measurement bias and bad data. Also a significant fraction of the individual values in the data products were derived either by direct calculation or some means of approximation. These data products were constructed for basin scale biogeochemical investigations and may be inappropriate for investigations involving small areal extent or similar detailed analyses. More information on specific parts of this project can be found in companion articles in this issue. In particular, Tanhua et al. (2010) and Tanhua (2009) describe the procedures and software used to remove measurement bias from the original data. The three data products and a significant volume of supporting information are available from the CARINA web site hosted by the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC: http://cdiac.esd.ornl.gov/oceans/ CARINA/Carina inv.html). Anyone wanting to use the data is advised to get the highest version number of each data product. Incremental versions represent either corrections or additions. The web site documents specifics of the changes.