This paper presents an analysis of the mineral dust aerosol modelled by five Earth system models (ESMs) within the project entitled Coordinated Research in Earth Systems and Climate: Experiments, kNowledge, Dissemination and Outreach (CRESCENDO). We quantify the global dust cycle described by each model in terms of global emissions, together with dry and wet deposition, reporting large differences in the ratio of dry over wet deposition across the models not directly correlated with the range of particle sizes emitted. The multi-model mean dust emissions with five ESMs is 2836 Tg yr.sup.-1 but with a large uncertainty due mainly to the difference in the maximum dust particle size emitted. The multi-model mean of the subset of four ESMs without particle diameters larger than 10 Âµ m is 1664 (Ï=651) Tg yr.sup.-1 . Total dust emissions in the simulations with identical nudged winds from reanalysis give us better consistency between models; i.e. the multi-model mean global emissions with three ESMs are 1613 (Ï=278) Tg yr.sup.-1, but 1834 (Ï=666) Tg yr.sup.-1 without nudged winds and the same models. Significant discrepancies in the globally averaged dust mass extinction efficiency explain why even models with relatively similar global dust load budgets can display strong differences in dust optical depth. The comparison against observations has been done in terms of dust optical depths based on MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) satellite products, showing global consistency in terms of preferential dust sources and transport across the Atlantic. The global localisation of source regions is consistent with MODIS, but we found regional and seasonal differences between models and observations when we quantified the cross-correlation of time series over dust-emitting regions. To faithfully compare local emissions between models we introduce a re-gridded normalisation method that can also be compared with satellite products derived from dust event frequencies. Dust total deposition is compared with an instrumental network to assess global and regional differences. We find that models agree with observations within a factor of 10 for data stations distant from dust sources, but the approximations of dust particle size distribution at emission contributed to a misrepresentation of the actual range of deposition values when instruments are close to dust-emitting regions. The observed dust surface concentrations also are reproduced to within a factor of 10. The comparison of total aerosol optical depth with AERONET (AErosol RObotic NETwork) stations where dust is dominant shows large differences between models, although with an increase in the inter-model consistency when the simulations are conducted with nudged winds. The increase in the model ensemble consistency also means better agreement with observations, which we have ascertained for dust total deposition, surface concentrations and optical depths (against both AERONET and MODIS retrievals). We introduce a method to ascertain the contributions per mode consistent with the multi-modal direct radiative effects, which we apply to study the direct radiative effects of a multi-modal representation of the dust particle size distribution that includes the largest particles.