A transfer function has been established to quantify the dissolution of diatom silica in Southern Ocean sediments. The relationship between the amount of silica dissolution and changes in diatom species distribution is built by controlled progressive dissolution of biogenic silica in five recent sediment samples from box-core tops, each representative of a modern diatom species sediment assemblage. The amount of dissolved silica was measured for each experiment. The resulting data set of species abundances (42 samples containing 32 diatom species and 2 silicoflagellate genera) was added to the modern data base of diatom species distributed over the Southern Ocean (124 core tops). Q-mode factor analysis individualizes four factors explaining 83% of the variance. The first three factors are controlled by surface water properties (mostly temperature). The fourth factor is the only one correlated with loss of silica in the reference samples (R = 0.900). We quantified the dissolution factor using this correlation: superficial sediments of the Southeast Indian Ocean are characterized, from low to high latitudes, by a decrease in silica loss by dissolution (from >50 to 10%) from the Subantarctic Zone (40°S) to around 55°S, followed by an increase of silica loss to values larger than 60% between 63° and 68°S. Application of the dissolution factor in two cores from the Southern Ocean (≈44° and 55°S) shows enhanced opal dissolution during the last glaciation, particularly during Emiliani's stage 3 (from 40,000 to 30,000 yr B.P.).