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The South China Sea (SCS) is a receptor of numerous natural and anthropogenic aerosol species from throughout greater Asia. A combination of several developing countries, archipelagic and peninsular terrain, a strong Asian monsoon climate, and a host of multi-scale meteorological phenomena make the SCS one of the most complex aerosol–meteorological systems in the world. However, aside from the well-known biomass burning emissions from Indonesia and Borneo, the current understanding of aerosol sources is limited, especially in remote marine environments. In September 2011, a 2-week research cruise was conducted near Palawan, Philippines, to sample the remote SCS environment. Size-segregated aerosol data were collected using a Davis Rotating Uniform size-cut Monitor (DRUM) sampler and analyzed for concentrations of 28 elements measured via X-ray fluorescence (XRF). Positive matrix factorization (PMF) was performed separately on the coarse, fine, and ultrafine size ranges to determine possible sources and their contributions to the total elemental particulate matter mass. The PMF analysis resolved six sources across the three size ranges: biomass burning, oil combustion, soil dust, a crustal–marine mixed source, sea spray, and fly ash. Additionally, size distribution plots, time series plots, back trajectories and satellite data were used in interpreting factors. The multi-technique source apportionment revealed the presence of biogenic sources such as soil dust, sea spray, and a crustal–marine mixed source. Anthropogenic sources were also identified: biomass burning, oil combustion, and fly ash. Mass size distributions showed elevated aerosol concentrations towards the end of the sampling period, which coincided with a shift of air mass back trajectories to southern Kalimantan. Covariance between coarse-mode soil dust and fine-mode biomass burning aerosols were observed. Agreement between the PMF and the linear regression analyses indicates that the PMF solution is robust. While biomass burning is indeed a key source of aerosol, this study shows the presence of other important sources in the SCS. Identifying these sources is not only key for characterizing the chemical profile of the SCS but, by improving our picture of aerosol sources in the region, also a step forward in developing our understanding of aerosol–meteorology feedbacks in this complex environment.

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