The deglacial transition between oxygen-isotope Stages 6 and 5e (about 127,000 yr B.P.) is marked by both oxygen isotopic depletion and estimated sea-surface temperature (SST) increase in two subantarctic Indian Ocean cores. The data show synchroneity between warming of foraminifera-based SST estimates and depletion of δ18O, but an earlier warming trend on the basis of radiolarian SST estimates. These data have been previously interpreted to indicate that the high-latitude Southern Ocean warms prior to significant melting of glacial-age ice sheets. Comparison of core-top assemblages with surface and subsurface conditions in the Southern Indian Ocean reveals that (1) a three-part foraminiferal zonation reflects the surface hydrographic regime, with abrupt faunal transitions at two major fronts: the Subtropical Convergence (STC) and the Antarctic Polar Front (APF); and (2) a two-part radiolarian zonation coincides with a two-part subsurface hydrographic regime, with an abrupt faunal transition corresponding to the southern terminus of subtropical lower water (STLW) between the STC and the APF. It is suggested that shifts of these surface and subsurface regimes are recorded by these foraminiferal and radiolarian assemblages. In this interpretation, the observed lead of radiolarian SST with respect to δ18O indicates an early response to a southward shift of STLW, while the later foraminiferal SST warming indicates a southward shift of the STC. Thus, the origin of the Southern Hemisphere SST lead may be related to STLW, which emanates from the subtropical gyres, rather than the polar regions.