We examine the relationship between the number concentration of boundary-layer cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) and light extinction to investigate underlying aerosol processes and satellite-based CCN estimates. For a variety of airborne and ground-based observations not dominated by dust, regression identifies the CCN (cm-3) at 0.4 ± 0.1% supersaturation with 100.3α+1.3σ0.75 where σ (Mm-1) is the 500 nm extinction coefficient by dried particles and α is the Angstrom exponent. The deviation of 1 km horizontal average data from this approximation is typically within a factor of 2.0. ∂logCCN / ∂logσ is less than unity because, among other explanations, growth processes generally make aerosols scatter more light without increasing their number. This, barring special meteorology-aerosol connections, associates a doubling of aerosol optical depth with less than a doubling of CCN, contrary to previous studies based on heavily averaged measurements or a satellite algorithm. © Author(s) 2015.