Although it is understood that the chemical environment at a drying surface is likely to be quite different from that at a fully hydrated surface, the difficulty of quantitative measurement has meant that this potentially crucial aspect of surface chemistry has gone largely overlooked. As a result, most of our understanding comes from measurement before and after drying, with a gray region of speculation in between. An interesting natural example is the paradoxical reduction of Mn oxides in moist soils as they dry, because drying is usually considered an oxidative process. This phenomenon indicates that important chemical changes are occurring during drying and an approach is needed to probe the chemistry of drying surfaces. Here we show the suitability of attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopy for real-time, in situ investigation of the drying solid-water interface, using the change in surface pH as an example. This was achieved by adsorbing thymol blue pH indicator (pK(a) = 1.65) onto a natural Mn-rich clay and observing the real-time pH change, which dropped from pH 5 to below pH 1.65 with the removal of free water from the surface. (c) 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.