The mechanisms forcing variability in Southern Ocean sea ice and sea surface temperature from 600 years of a control climate coupled model integration are discussed. As in the observations, the leading mode of simulated variability exhibits a dipole pattern with positive anomalies in the Pacific sector associated with negative anomalies in the Atlantic. It is found that in the Pacific ocean circulation changes associated with variable wind forcing modify the ocean heat flux convergence and sea ice transport, resulting in sea surface temperature and sea ice anomalies. The Pacific ice and ocean anomalies persist over a number of years due to reductions in ocean shortwave absorption reinforcing the initial anomalies. In the Atlantic sector, no single process dominates in forcing the anomalies. Instead there are contributions from changing ocean and sea ice circulation and surface heat fluxes. While the absorbed solar radiation in the Atlantic is modified by the changing surface albedo, the anomalies are much shorter-lived than in the Pacific because the ocean circulation transports them northward, removing them from ice formation regions. Sea ice and ocean anomalies associated with the El Niño–Southern Oscillation and the Southern Annular Mode both exhibit a dipole pattern and contribute to the leading mode of ice and ocean variability.