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• We use an extension of Gordon–Litherland pairing to thickened surfaces to give a topological characterization of alternating links in thickened surfaces. If $\Sigma$ is a closed oriented surface and $F$ is a compact unoriented surface in $\Sigma \times I$ , then the Gordon–Litherland pairing defines a symmetric bilinear pairing on the first homology of $F$ . A compact surface in $\Sigma \times I$ is called definite if its Gordon–Litherland pairing is a definite form. We prove that a link $L$ in a thickened surface is non-split, alternating, and of minimal genus if and only if it bounds two definite surfaces of opposite sign.