The influence of atmospheric aerosols on Earth's radiation budget and hence climate, though well recognized and extensively investigated in recent years, remains largely uncertain mainly because of the large spatio-temporal heterogeneity and the lack of data with adequate resolution. To characterize this diversity, a major multi-platform field campaign ICARB (Integrated Campaign for Aerosols, gases and Radiation Budget) was carried out during the pre-monsoon period of 2006 over the Indian landmass and surrounding oceans, which was the biggest such campaign ever conducted over this region. Based on the extensive and concurrent measurements of the optical and physical properties of atmospheric aerosols during ICARB, the spatial distribution of aerosol radiative forcing was estimated over the entire Bay of Bengal (BoB), northern Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea (AS) as well as large spatial variations within these regions. Besides being considerably lower than the mean values reported earlier for this region, our studies have revealed large differences in the forcing components between the BoB and the AS. While the regionally averaged aerosol-induced atmospheric forcing efficiency was 31 +/- 6 W m(-2) tau(-1) for the BoB, it was only similar to 18 +/- 7 W m(-2) tau(-1) for the AS. Airborne measurements revealed the presence of strong, elevated aerosol layers even over the oceans, leading to vertical structures in the atmospheric forcing, resulting in significant warming in the lower troposphere. These observations suggest serious climate implications and raise issues ranging from the impact of aerosols on vertical thermal structure of the atmospheric and hence cloud formation processes to monsoon circulation.