Understanding how environmental forcing has generated and maintained large-scale patterns of biodiversity is a key goal of evolutionary research and critical to predicting the impacts of global climate change. We suggest that the initiation of the global thermohaline circulation provided a mechanism for the radiation of Southern Ocean fauna into the deep sea. We test this hypothesis using a relaxed phylogenetic approach to coestimate phylogeny and divergence times for a lineage of octopuses with Antarctic and deep-sea representatives. We show that the deep-sea lineage had their evolutionary origins in Antarctica, and estimate that this lineage diverged around 33 million years ago (Ma) and subsequently radiated at 15 Ma. Both of these dates are critical in development of the thermohaline circulation and we suggest that this has acted as an evolutionary driver enabling the Southern Ocean to become a centre of origin for deep-sea fauna. This is the first unequivocal molecular evidence that deep-sea fauna from other ocean basins originated from Southern Ocean taxa and this is the first evidence to be dated.