Shipborne aerosol lidar observations were performed aboard the research vessel Polarstern in 2009 and 2010 during three north-south cruises from about 50°N to 50°S. The aerosol data set provides an excellent opportunity to characterize and contrast the vertical aerosol distribution over the Atlantic Ocean in the polluted northern and relatively clean southern hemisphere. Three case studies, an observed pure Saharan dust plume, a Patagonian dust plume east of South America, and a case of a mixed dust/smoke plume west of Central Africa are exemplarily shown and discussed by means of their optical properties. The meridional transatlantic cruises were used to determine the latitudinal cross section of the aerosol optical thickness (AOT). Profiles of particle backscatter and extinction coefficients are presented as mean profiles for latitudinal belts to contrast northern- and southern-hemispheric aerosol loads and optical effects. Results of lidar observations at Punta Arenas (53°S), Chile, and Stellenbosch (34°S), South Africa, are shown and confirm the lower frequency of occurrence of free-tropospheric aerosol in the southern hemisphere than in the northern hemisphere. The maximum latitudinal mean AOT of 0.27 was found in the northern tropics (0– 15°N) in the Saharan outflow region. Marine AOT is typically 0.05 ± 0.03. Particle optical properties are presented separately for the marine boundary layer and the free troposphere. Concerning the contrast between the anthropogenically influenced midlatitudinal aerosol conditions in the 30– 60°N belt and the respective belt in the southern hemisphere over the remote Atlantic, it is found that the AOT and extinction coefficients for the vertical column from 0–5km (total aerosol column) and 1–5km height (lofted aerosol above the marine boundary layer) are a factor of 1.6 and 2 higher at northern midlatitudes than at respective southern midlatitudes, and a factor of 2.5 higher than at the clean marine southern-hemispheric site of Punta Arenas. The strong contrast is confined to the lowermost 3km of the atmosphere.