The surface albedos simulated by seventeen climate models over the northern latitudes of the Western Hemisphere were compared with satellite‐derived albedo products provided by the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP). Model simulations were conducted in support of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). Results show the following: (1) Annual albedo of the region averaged for all models is fairly close to that provided by the ISCCP (0.351 versus 0.334). The difference between model average and ISCCP albedos is well below the standard deviation in albedo among models. (2) Most models simulated seasonal variations in regional albedo reasonably well. In summer, the models systematically overestimated albedo relative to the ISCCP data by as much as 0.05. In winter, large differences were detected among the climate models. (3) The spatial correlations among models, and between models and ISCCP, depend on geographic location, season and surface type. In general, the spatial correlation coefficients between individual models and the ISCCP data were highest for the land surface in midsummer and for the ocean surface in spring. Model bias was smaller for the ocean surface than for the land surface, and smaller in summer than in winter. (4) Unlike the modeling results, the satellite data showed large interannual variations in albedo and a systematic decreasing trend over the 16 year period of 1984–1999. Depending on season, the standard deviation of albedo interannual variation ranged from 0.036 to 0.074, and the linear regression slope of the decreasing trend ranged from −0.02 to −0.05 per decade according to ISCCP results. The large interannual variation and decreasing trend are not reflected in model simulations. Additional efforts are still required to improve surface albedo simulations in GCMs and its mapping from satellite.