A climatology of Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor (SeaWiFS) chlorophyll data over the Indian Ocean is used to examine the bloom variability patterns, identifying spatio-temporal contrasts in bloom appearance and intensity and relating them to the variability of the physical environment. The near-surface ocean dynamics is assessed using an ocean general circulation model (OGCM). It is found that over a large part of the basin, the seasonal cycle of phytoplankton is characterized by two consecutive blooms, one during the summer monsoon, and the other during the winter monsoon. Each bloom is described by means of two parameters, the timing of the bloom onset and the cumulated increase in chlorophyll during the bloom. This yields a regional image of the influence of the two monsoons on phytoplankton, with distinct regions emerging in summer and in winter. By comparing the bloom patterns with dynamical features derived from the OGCM (horizontal and vertical velocities and mixed-layer depth), it is shown that the regional structure of the blooms is intimately linked with the horizontal and vertical circulations forced by the monsoons. Moreover, this comparison permits the assessment of some of the physical mechanisms that drive the bloom patterns, and points out the regions where these mechanisms need to be further investigated. A new outcome of this study is that in many distinct areas, time shifts of 1–2 months are witnessed in the timing of the bloom onsets in adjoining regions. These time shifts are rationalized in terms of horizontal advection and Rossby wave propagation.