The CALIOP (Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization) layer product is used for a multimodel evaluation of the vertical distribution of aerosols. Annual and seasonal aerosol extinction profiles are analyzed over 13 sub-continental regions representative of industrial, dust, and biomass burning pollution, from CALIOP 2007-2009 observations and from AeroCom (Aerosol Comparisons between Observations and Models) 2000 simulations. An extinction mean height diagnostic (Z) is defined to quantitatively assess the models' performance. It is calculated over the 0-6 km and 0-10 km altitude ranges by weighting the altitude of each 100 m altitude layer by its aerosol extinction coefficient. The mean extinction profiles derived from CALIOP layer products provide consistent regional and seasonal specificities and a low inter-annual variability. While the outputs from most models are significantly correlated with the observed Z climatologies, some do better than others, and 2 of the 12 models perform particularly well in all seasons. Over industrial and maritime regions, most models show higher Z than observed by CALIOP, whereas over the African and Chinese dust source regions, Z is underestimated during Northern Hemisphere Spring and Summer. The positive model bias in Z is mainly due to an overestimate of the extinction above 6 km. Potential CALIOP and model limitations, and methodological factors that might contribute to the differences are discussed.
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