Remote sensing observations of aerosol from surface and satellite instruments are extensively used for atmospheric and climate research. From passive sensors, the apparent cloud-free atmosphere in the vicinity of clouds often appears to be brighter than further away from the clouds, leading to an increase in the retrieved aerosol optical depth (t). Mechanisms contributing to this enhancement or increase, including contamination by undetected clouds, hygroscopic growth of aerosol particles, and meteorological conditions, have been debated in recent literature, but the extent to which each of these factors influence the observed enhancement (Dt) is poorly known. Here we used 11 years of daily global observations at 10 x 10 km2 resolution from the MODIS on the NASA Terra satellite to quantify t as a function of cloud fraction (CF). Our analysis reveals that, averaged over the globe, the clear sky t is enhanced by Dt = 0.05 in cloudy conditions (CF = 0.8–0.9). This enhancement in Dt corresponds to relative enhancement of 25% in cloudy conditions (CF = 0.8–0.9) compared with relatively clear conditions (CF = 0.1–0.2). Unlike the absolute enhancement Dt, the relative increase in t is rather consistent in all seasons and is 25–35% in the subtropics and 15–25% at mid and higher latitudes. Using a simple Gaussian probability density function model to connect cloud cover and the distribution of relative humidity, we argue that much of the enhancement is consistent with aerosol hygroscopic growth in the humid environment surrounding clouds. Consideration of these cloud-dependent t effects will facilitate understanding aerosol-cloud interactions and reduce the uncertainty in estimates of aerosol radiative forcing by global climate models.