[1] Observational analyses have documented increases in global ocean temperature, heat content, and sea level in the 20th century. Previous studies argued that the observed ocean warming is a response to increasing greenhouse gases. We use a new climate model to decompose simulated ocean temperature changes into components attributable to subsets of anthropogenic and natural influences. The model simulates a positive trend in global ocean volume mean temperature from the mid 1950s to 2000, consistent with observational estimates. We show that for the period 1861–2000 aerosols have delayed the onset of ocean warming by several decades and reduced the magnitude of the transient warming by approximately two-thirds when compared to the response that arises solely from increasing greenhouse gases. The simulated cooling signature from large volcanic eruptions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is clearly visible in the subsurface ocean well into the middle part of the 20th century.