Water in the atmosphere can exist in the solid, liquid or gas phase. At high humidities, if the aerosol population remains constant, more water vapour will condense onto the particles and cause them to swell, sometimes up to several times their original size. This significant change in size and chemical composition is termed hygroscopic growth and alters a particle's optical properties. Even in unsaturated conditions, this can change the aerosol direct effect, for example by increasing the extinction of incoming sunlight. This can have an impact on a region's energy balance and affect visibility. Here, aerosol and relative humidity measurements collected from aircraft and radiosondes during the Dynamics-Aerosol-Chemistry-Cloud Interactions in West Africa (DACCIWA) campaign were used to estimate the effect of highly humid layers of air on aerosol optical properties during the monsoon season in southern West Africa. The effects of hygroscopic growth in this region are of particular interest due to the regular occurrence of high humidity and the high levels of pollution in the region. The Zdanovskii, Stokes and Robinson (ZSR) mixing rule is used to estimate the hygroscopic growth of particles under different conditions based on chemical composition. These results are used to estimate the aerosol optical depth (AOD) at <span classCombining double low line"inline-formula"> »Combining double low line525</span> nm for 63 relative humidity profiles. The median AOD in the region from these calculations was 0.36, the same as that measured by sun photometers at the ground site. The spread in the calculated AODs was less than the spread from the sun photometer measurements. In both cases, values above 0.5 were seen predominantly in the mornings and corresponded with high humidities. Observations of modest variations in aerosol load and composition are unable to explain the high and variable AODs observed using sun photometers, which can only be recreated by accounting for the very elevated and variable relative humidities (RHs) in the boundary layer. Most importantly, the highest AODs present in the mornings are not possible without the presence of high RH in excess of 95 %. Humid layers are found to have the most significant impact on AOD when they reach RH greater than 98 %, which can result in a wet AOD more than 1.8 times the dry AOD. Unsaturated humid layers were found to reach these high levels of RH in 37 % of observed cases. It can therefore be concluded that the high AODs present across the region are driven by the high humidities and are then moderated by changes in aerosol abundance. Aerosol concentrations in southern West Africa are projected to increase substantially in the coming years; results presented here show that the presence of highly humid layers in the region is likely to enhance the consequent effect on AOD significantly.