Sulfate aerosols resulting from strong volcanic explosions last for 2–3 years in the lower stratosphere. Therefore it was traditionally believed that volcanic impacts produce mainly short-term, transient climate perturbations. However, the ocean integrates volcanic radiative cooling and responds over a wide range of time scales. The associated processes, especially ocean heat uptake, play a key role in ongoing climate change. However, they are not well constrained by observations, and attempts to simulate them in current climate models used for climate predictions yield a range of uncertainty. Volcanic impacts on the ocean provide an independent means of assessing these processes. This study focuses on quantification of the seasonal to multidecadal time scale response of the ocean to explosive volcanism. It employs the coupled climate model CM2.1, developed recently at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, to simulate the response to the 1991 Pinatubo and the 1815 Tambora eruptions, which were the largest in the 20th and 19th centuries, respectively. The simulated climate perturbations compare well with available observations for the Pinatubo period. The stronger Tambora forcing produces responses with higher signal-to-noise ratio. Volcanic cooling tends to strengthen the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. Sea ice extent appears to be sensitive to volcanic forcing, especially during the warm season. Because of the extremely long relaxation time of ocean subsurface temperature and sea level, the perturbations caused by the Tambora eruption could have lasted well into the 20th century.