In order to map the modern distribution of diatoms and to establish a reliable reference data set for paleoenvironmental reconstruction in the northern North Pacific, a new data set including the relative abundance of diatom species preserved in a total of 422 surface sediments was generated, which covers a broad range of environmental variables characteristic of the subarctic North Pacific, the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea between 30° and 70°N. The biogeographic distribution patterns as well as the preferences in sea surface temperature of 38 diatom species and species groups are documented. A Q-mode factor analysis yields a three-factor model representing assemblages associated with the Arctic, Subarctic and Subtropical water mass, indicating a close relationship between the diatom composition and the sea surface temperatures. The relative abundance pattern of 38 diatom species and species groups was statistically compared with nine environmental variables, i.e. the summer sea surface temperature and salinity, annual surface nutrient concentration (nitrate, phosphate, silicate), summer and winter mixed layer depth and summer and winter sea ice concentrations. Canonical Correspondence Analysis (CCA) and other analyses indicate 32 species and species groups have strong correspondence with the pattern of summer sea surface temperature. In addition, the total diatom flux data compiled from ten sediment traps reveal that the seasonal signals preserved in the surface sediments are mostly from spring through autumn. This close relationship between diatom composition and the summer sea surface temperature will be useful in deriving a transfer function in the subarctic North Pacific for the quantitative paleoceanographic and paleoenvironmental studies. The relative abundance of the sea ice indicator diatoms Fragilariopsis cylindrus and F. oceanica of > 20% in the diatom composition is used to represent the winter sea ice edge in the Bering Sea. The northern boundary of the distribution of F. doliolus in the open ocean is suggested to be an indicator of the Subarctic Front, while the abundance of Chaetoceros resting spores may indicate iron input from nearby continents and shelves and induced productivity events in the study area.