Continuous measurements of surface mixed layer (SML), decoupled residual/convective layer (DRCL) and aerosol backscatter coefficient were performed within the Barcelona (Spain) boundary layer from September to October 2010 (30 days) in the framework of the SAPUSS (Solving Aerosol Problems by Using Synergistic Strategies) field campaign. Two near-infrared ceilometers (Jenoptik CHM15K), vertically and horizontally probing (only vertical profiles are herein discussed), were deployed. Ceilometer-based DRCLs (1761 +/- 363 m a.g.l.) averaged over the campaign duration were twice as high as the mean SML (904 +/- 273 m a.g.l.). Both DRCL and SML showed a marked SML diurnal cycle. Ceilometer data were compared with potential temperature profiles measured by daily radiosounding (twice a day, midnight and midday) to interpret the boundary layer structure in the coastal urban area of Barcelona. The overall agreement (R-2 = 0.80) between the ceilometer-retrieved and radiosounding-based SML heights (h) revealed overestimation of the SML by the ceilometer (1 h = 145 +/- 145 m). After separating the data in accordance with different atmospheric scenarios, the lowest SML (736 +/- 183 m) and DRCL (1573 +/- 428 m) were recorded during warm North African (NAF) advected air mass. By contrast, higher SML and DRCL were observed during stagnant Regional (REG) (911 +/- 234 m and 1769 +/- 314 m, respectively) and cold Atlantic (ATL) (965 +/- 222 m and 1878 +/- 290 m, respectively) air masses. In addition to being the lowest, the SML during the NAF scenario frequently showed a flat upper boundary throughout the day possibly because of the strong winds from the Mediterranean Sea limiting the midday SML convective growth. The mean backscatter coefficients were calculated at two selected heights representative of middle and top SML portions, i.e. beta(500) = 0.59 +/- 0.45 Mm(-1) sr(-1) and beta(800) = 0.87 +/- 0.68 Mm(-1) sr(-1) at 500 m and 800 m a.g.l., respectively. The highest backscatter coefficients were observed during NAF (beta(500) = 0.77 +/- 0.57 Mm(-1) sr(-1)) when compared with ATL (beta(500) = 0.51 +/- 0.44 Mm(-1) sr(-1)) and REG (beta(500) = 0.64 +/- 0.39 Mm(-1) sr(-1)). The relationship between the vertical change in backscatter coefficient and atmospheric stability (partial derivative theta/partial derivative z) was investigated in the first 3000 m a.g.l., aiming to study how the unstable, stable or neutral atmospheric conditions of the atmosphere alter the distribution of aerosol backscatter with height over Barcelona. A positive correlation between unstable conditions and enhanced backscatter and vice versa was found.