During the Middle Miocene climate transition about 14 million years ago, the Antarctic ice sheet expanded to near-modern volume. Surprisingly, this ice sheet growth was accompanied by a warming in the surface waters of the Southern Ocean, whereas a slight deep-water temperature increase was delayed by more than 200 thousand years. Here we use a coupled atmosphere–ocean model to assess the relative effects of changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration and ice sheet growth on regional and global temperatures. In the simulations, changes in the wind field associated with the growth of the ice sheet induce changes in ocean circulation, deep-water formation and sea-ice cover that result in sea surface warming and deep-water cooling in large swaths of the Atlantic and Indian ocean sectors of the Southern Ocean. We interpret these changes as the dominant ocean surface response to a 100-thousand-year phase of massive ice growth in Antarctica. A rise in global annual mean temperatures is also seen in response to increased Antarctic ice surface elevation. In contrast, the longer-term surface and deep-water temperature trends are dominated by changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration. We therefore conclude that the climatic and oceanographic impacts of the Miocene expansion of the Antarctic ice sheet are governed by a complex interplay between wind field, ocean circulation and the sea-ice system.