The chemical properties of the mid-depth and deep Southern Ocean are diagnostic of the mechanisms of abrupt changes in the global ocean throughout the late Pleistocene, because the regional water mass conversion and mixing help determine global ocean gradients. Here we define continuous time series of Southern Ocean vertical gradients by differencing the records from two high deposition rate deep sea sedimentary sequences that span the last several ice age cycles. The inferred changes in vertical carbon and oxygen isotopic gradients were dominated by variability on the millennial scale, and they followed closely the abrupt climate events of the high latitude Northern Hemisphere. In particular, the stadial events of at least the last 200 kyr were characterized by enhanced mid-deep gradients in both δ13C (dissolved inorganic carbon) and δ18O (temperature). Interstadial events, conversely, featured reduced vertical gradients in both properties. The glacial terminations represented exceptions to this pattern of variability, as the vertical carbon isotopic gradient flattened dramatically at times of peak warmth in the Southern Ocean surface waters and with little or no corresponding change δ18O gradient. The available evidence suggests that properties of the upper layer of the Southern Ocean (Antarctic Intermediate Water) were influenced by an atmospherically mediated teleconnection to high latitude Northern Hemisphere. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.