In this study we investigate statistical link between external climate forcings and modes of ocean variability on inter-annual (3-year) to centennial (100-year) timescales using de-trended semi-partial-cross-correlation analysis technique. To investigate this link we employ observations (AD 1854–1999), climate proxies (AD 1600–1999), and coupled Atmosphere-Ocean-Chemistry Climate Model simulations with SOCOL-MPIOM (AD 1600–1999). We find robust statistical evidence that Atlantic multi-decadal oscillation (AMO) has intrinsic positive correlation with solar activity in all datasets employed. The strength of the relationship between AMO and solar activity is modulated by volcanic eruptions and complex interaction among modes of ocean variability. The observational dataset reveals that El Niño southern oscillation (ENSO) has statistically significant negative intrinsic correlation with solar activity on decadal to multi-decadal timescales (16–27-year) whereas there is no evidence of a link on a typical ENSO timescale (2–7-year). In the observational dataset, the volcanic eruptions do not have a link with AMO on a typical AMO timescale (55–80-year) however the long-term datasets (proxies and SOCOL-MPIOM output) show that volcanic eruptions have intrinsic negative correlation with AMO on inter-annual to multi-decadal timescales. The Pacific decadal oscillation has no link with solar activity, however, it has positive intrinsic correlation with volcanic eruptions on multi-decadal timescales (47–54-year) in reconstruction and decadal to multi-decadal timescales (16–32-year) in climate model simulations. We also find evidence of a link between volcanic eruptions and ENSO, however, the sign of relationship is not consistent between observations/proxies and climate model simulations.