Diatoms from 228 Southern Ocean core-top sediment samples were examined to determine the geographic distributions of 32 major diatom species/taxa preserved in the sediments of three zonally-distinct regions; Sea Ice, Open Ocean and the Tropical/Subtropical. In the first of three papers, 14 species/taxa occurring in the region where sea ice covers the ocean surface on an annual basis are geographically documented. Comparisons are drawn between the diatom abundances on the sea floor, sea ice parameters (annual duration and concentration in February and September) and February sea-surface temperature. Such parameters are commonly used in reconstructing past oceanographic conditions in the Sea Ice and Open Ocean zones. Analysis of the geographic patterns and sea-surface parameter correlations reveals species-specific distributions regulated primarily by sea ice coverage and sea-surface temperature, which support the use of diatom remains for the estimation of these past sea-surface environmental parameters. Comparison with reliable accounts of the 14 species from the sediments or plankton also provides the first glimpses into species-specific ecology and habitat linkages.