During the spring of 2010, comprehensive in situ measurements were made for the first time on a small atoll (Dongsha Island) in the northern South China Sea (SCS), a key region of the 7-SEAS (the Seven South East Asian Studies) program. This paper focuses on characterizing the source origins, transport processes, and vertical distributions of the Asian continental outflows over the region, using measurements including mass concentration, optical properties, hygroscopicity, and vertical distribution of the aerosol particles, as well as the trace gas composition. Cluster analysis of backward trajectories classified 52% of the air masses arriving at ground level of Dongsha Island as having a continental origin, mainly from northern China to the northern SCS, passing the coastal area and being confined in the marine boundary layer (0-0.5km). Compared to aerosols of oceanic origin, the fine mode continental aerosols have a higher concentration, extinction coefficient, and single-scattering albedo at 550nm (i.e., 19 vs. 14μgm-3 in PM2.5; 77 vs. 59Mm-1 in βe; and 0.94 vs. 0.90 in ω, respectively). These aerosols have a higher hygroscopicity (f at 85% RH=2.1) than those in the upwind inland regions, suggesting that the aerosols transported to the northern SCS were modified by the marine environment. In addition to the near-surface aerosol transport, a significant upper-layer (3-4km) transport of biomass-burning aerosols was observed. Our results suggest that emissions from both China and Southeast Asia could have a significant impact on the aerosol loading and other aerosol properties over the SCS. Furthermore, the complex vertical distribution of aerosols-coinciding-with-clouds has implications for remote-sensing observations and aerosol-cloud-radiation interactions.