The Sea-Viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) has observed 2.5 years of routine global chlorophyll observations from space. The mission was launched into a record El Nino event, which eventually gave way to one of the most intensive and longest-lasting La Nina events ever recorded. The SeaWiFS chlorophyll record captured the response of ocean phytoplankton to these significant events in the tropical Indo-Pacific basins, but also indicated significant interannual variability unrelated to the El Nino/La Nina events. This included large variability in the North Atlantic and Pacific basins, in the North Central and equatorial Atlantic, and milder patterns in the North Central Pacific. This SeaWiFS record was tracked with a coupled physical/biogeochemical/radiative model of the global oceans using near-real-time forcing data such as wind stresses, sea surface temperatures, and sea ice. This provided an opportunity to offer physically and biogeochemically meaningful explanations of the variability observed in the SeaWiFS data set, since the causal mechanisms and interrelationships of the model are completely understood. The coupled model was able to represent the seasonal distributions of chlorophyll during the SeaWiFS era, and was capable of differentiating among the widely different processes and dynamics occurring in the global oceans. The model was also reasonably successful in representing the interannual signal, especially when it was large, such as, the El Nino and La Nina events in the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans. The model provided different phytoplankton group responses for the different events in these regions: diatoms were predominant in the tropical Pacific during the La Nina but other groups were predominant during El Nino. The opposite condition occurred in the tropical Indian Ocean. Both situations were due to the different responses of the basins to El Nino. The interannual variability in the North Atlantic, which was exhibited in SeaWiFS data as a decline in the spring/summer bloom in 1999 relative to 1998, resulted in the model from a more slowly shoaling mixed layer, allowing herbivore populations to keep pace with increasing phytoplankton populations. However, several aspects of the interannual cycle were not well-represented by the model. Explanations ranged from inherent model deficiencies, to monthly averaging of forcing fields, to biases in SeaWiFS atmospheric correction procedures.