Presented at the 2016 Ocean Sciences MeetingNewly available sea surface salinity (SSS) data from Aquarius together with in situ hydrographic data are used to explore the spatial and temporal characteristics of SSS in the South China Sea (SCS). Using in situ observations as the reference, an evaluation of daily Aquarius data indicates that there exists a negative bias of 0.45 psu for the version 3.0 data set. The root-mean-square difference for daily Aquarius SSS is about 0.53 psu after correcting the systematic bias, and those for weekly and monthly Aquarius SSSs are 0.45 and 0.29 psu, respectively. Nevertheless, the Aquarius SSS shows a reliable freshening in the SCS in 2012, which is larger than the Aquarius uncertainty. The freshening of up to 0.4 psu in the upper-ocean of the northern SCS was confirmed by in situ observations. This freshening in 2012 was caused by a combined effect of abundant local freshwater flux and limited Kuroshio intrusion. By comparing the Kuroshio intrusion in 2012 with that in 2011, we found the reduction as a relatively important cause for the freshening over the northern SCS. In contrast to the northern SCS, reduced river discharge in 2012 played the leading role to the saltier surface in the region near the Mekong River mouth with respect to 2011.