Despite their potential to slow global warming, until recently, the radiative forcing associated with volcanic aerosols in the lowermost stratosphere (LMS) had not been considered. Here we study volcanic aerosol changes in the stratosphere using lidar measurements from the NASA CALIPSO satellite and aircraft measurements from the IAGOS-CARIBIC observatory. Between 2008 and 2012 volcanism frequently affected the Northern Hemisphere stratosphere aerosol loadings, whereas the Southern Hemisphere generally had loadings close to background conditions. We show that half of the global stratospheric aerosol optical depth following the Kasatochi, Sarychev and Nabro eruptions is attributable to LMS aerosol. On average, 30% of the global stratospheric aerosol optical depth originated in the LMS during the period 2008–2011. On the basis of the two independent, high-resolution measurement methods, we show that the LMS makes an important contribution to the overall volcanic forcing.