There has been limited previous research about Holocene climate variability in the Indian Sector of the Southern Ocean. Here we examine centennial-scale changes in diatom assemblages and stable isotopic ratios since 10 000 cal a BP in a high-accumulation-rate sediment core from the Conrad Rise. Although abundances of dominant diatom taxa (Fragilariopsis kerguelensis and Thalassiothrix antarctica) are comparatively constant, relative abundances of secondary taxa fluctuate. Before c. 9900 cal a BP, winter sea-ice and cold water covered the Conrad Rise. Following deglaciation the sea-ice retreated from the Conrad Rise, lagging that of the Atlantic and eastern Indian Sectors by about 1500 a. The Polar Front moved southward during the early Holocene optimum and north Antarctic Zone waters covered the Conrad Rise for about 650 a. After 9300 cal a BP, solar insolation strongly influenced sea surface temperature and primary productivity in the Southern Ocean. In the high-latitude Indian Sector, productivity increased 1500 a after the onset of late Holocene neoglaciation. Periodic δ18O and cold-water diatom taxa spikes (at intervals of 200 and 300–500 a, respectively) occurred after 9300 cal a BP, probably associated with solar activity. Fluctuations in short-term sea surface temperature and cold-water taxa are synchronous with changes in δD observed in an east Antarctic ice core. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.