The evolution of the Southern Ocean climate during the late Eocene–late Oligocene interval is examined through high-resolution, quantitative calcareous nannofossil analyses on samples from the Southern Ocean sections on Maud Rise and Kerguelen Plateau. We determined the abundance patterns of the counted species to clarify the biostratigraphy, which we correlated with high-resolution magnetostratigraphy [Roberts, A.P., Bicknell, S.J., Byatt, J., Bohaty, S.M., Florindo, F., Harwood, D.M., 2003a. Magnetostratigraphic calibration of Southern Ocean diatom datums from the Eocene–Oligocene of Kerguelen Plateau (Ocean Drilling Program Sites 744 and 748). In: Florindo, F., Cooper, A.K., O'Brien, P.A. (Eds.), Antarctic Cenozoic Palaeoenvironments: Geologic Record and Models. Palaeogeogr., Palaeoclimatol., Palaeoecol. 198 145–168; Florindo, F., Roberts, A.P., in press. Eocene–Oligocene magnetobiochronology of ODP Sites 689 and 690, Maud Rise, Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull.], and used this data to interpret paleoceanographic changes through the late Eocene to late Oligocene. Percentage plots of the individual species, compared with R-mode principal component and cluster analysis results, allowed us to divide the assemblages into three groups: temperate-water taxa, cool-water taxa, and no temperature-affinity taxa. We attempt correlations between these paleoecological groups and the major sea-surface temperature (SST) variations with tectonic and paleoceanographic changes in the Southern Ocean. During the late Eocene, the nannofossil assemblage data reveal that there were several minor SST decreases (coolings) from 36 to 34 Ma, before the Eocene/Oligocene (E/O) boundary. A sharp cooling event, dated at 33.54 Ma (earliest Oligocene), occurred about 160 kyr after the E/O boundary, which is dated at 33.7 Ma. Relatively stable, cool conditions are interpreted to persist until the latest Oligocene, when an increase in abundance of temperate-water taxa, which corresponds to an antithetical decrease in abundance of cool-water indicators, is recorded.On the basis of our dating, the opening of the Drake Passage, allowing shallow-water circulation, began by 33.54 Ma at the latest, while the establishment of deep-water connections through the Tasmanian Gateway occurred at 33 Ma, as suggested by Exon et al. [Proc. ODP, Init. Rep. 189 (2001) 1].