The vertical distribution of aerosols plays an important role in determining the effective radiative forcing from aerosol–radiation and aerosol–cloud interactions. Here, a number of processes controlling the vertical distribution of aerosol in five subtropical marine stratocumulus regions in the climate model NorESM1-M are investigated, with a focus on the total aerosol extinction. A comparison with satellite lidar data (CALIOP, Cloud–Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization) shows that the model underestimates aerosol extinction throughout the troposphere, especially elevated aerosol layers in the two regions where they are seen in observations. It is found that the shape of the vertical aerosol distribution is largely determined by the aerosol emission and removal processes in the model, primarily through the injection height, emitted particle size, and wet scavenging. In addition, the representation of vertical transport related to shallow convection and entrainment is found to be important, whereas alterations in aerosol optical properties and cloud microphysics parameterizations have smaller effects on the vertical aerosol extinction distribution. ... mehrHowever, none of the alterations made are sufficient for reproducing the observed vertical distribution of aerosol extinction, neither in magnitude nor in shape. Interpolating the vertical levels of CALIOP to the corresponding model levels leads to better agreement in the boundary layer and highlights the importance of the vertical resolution.