A 22 year, high-latitude, stratospheric aerosol and cloud database has been formed in a “unified” manner by combining the Stratospheric Aerosol Measurement (SAM) II, Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Measurement (SAGE) II, Polar Ozone and Aerosol Measurement (POAM) II, and POAM III 1 μm aerosol extinction profiles. The database is “unified” in that it embodies similar aerosol extinction measurements, uses a single meteorological data set, and employs a single algorithm for calculating background extinction and cloud detection thresholds. Latitude is constrained to poleward of 45° in each hemisphere. The Unified cloud detection algorithm and database are designed for the straightforward addition of new data when other compatible data sets (e.g., SAGE III) become available. “Unified” cloud detection is similar to, but a refinement of, earlier attempts to identify polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs) with SAM II and POAM II data. The Unified algorithm is instrument-independent and circumvents fundamental cloud detection pitfalls. The database contains over 73,000 (36,000) polar vortex-region profiles in the Antarctic (Arctic) and over 21,000 (2000) PSC observations. An introductory climatology of Unified “background” extinction is presented. It is seen that volcanic effects dominate the evolution of outside-vortex background extinctions, but perturbations apparently not related to volcanoes are seen as well. Interannual variations of background extinction inside the austral vortex are seen to be nearly decoupled from volcanic effects, while in the Arctic, inside-vortex extinctions show a considerable volcanic influence. An analysis of long-term PSC sighting is presented. Midwinter (July and January) PSC and clear-sky measurements at 20 km, in a fixed temperature range, are used for computing PSC probability. The grand average PSC probability calculated this way is nearly identical between hemispheres. In the Antarctic the interannual PSC probability pattern is distinctly cyclic but is convoluted by volcanic perturbations in background aerosol. In the Arctic the PSC probability has much less temporal coherence than in the Antarctic but is similarly impacted by volcanic background increases. An explanation for the variation in PSC probabilities, in terms of interannual differences in denitrification, is discussed. Finally, a statistical analysis of tropopause height in relation to PSC formation is also presented. PSC observations are seen to be strongly associated with elevated tropopause heights, indicating that tropospheric, synoptic-scale flow perturbations are the primary forcing mechanism for Arctic PSC formation, as evidenced in this long-term satellite record.