[1] We examine the impact that changes in the winter Southern Hemisphere (SH) meridional sea surface temperature (SST) gradient have on the sign and strength of the SH Annular Mode (SAM). This is undertaken by perturbing either tropical or extra-tropical SSTs in an atmospheric General Circulation Model. Changes in winter tropical SSTs have little direct influence on the SAM but do force a strong wave train in geopotential height across the Southern Ocean. In contrast, changes in winter SSTs in the SH extra-tropics have a profound effect on the SAM: cooler SSTs strengthen the SAM and vice versa. The mechanism involves modifications to the Ferrel cell. As a positive (negative) SAM enhances (reduces) the extra-tropical meridional temperature gradient, these experiments demonstrate a positive feedback mechanism. SAM variability remains unchanged, indicating a shift in the mean, rather than a change in the probability distribution of its positive and negative phases.