Distributions of temperature (T) and salinity (S) and their relationship in the oceans are the result of a balance between T–S variability generated at the surface by air–sea fluxes and its removal by molecular dissipation. In this paper the role of different motions in setting the cascade of T–S variance to dissipation scales is quantified using data from the North Atlantic Tracer Release Experiment (NATRE). The NATRE observational programs include fine- and microscale measurements and provide a snapshot of T–S variability across a wide range of scales from basin to molecular. It is found that microscale turbulence controls the rate of thermal dissipation in the thermocline. At this level the T–S relation is established through a balance between large-scale advection by the gyre circulation and small-scale turbulence. Further down, at the level of intermediate and Mediterranean waters, mesoscale eddies are the rate-controlling process. The transition between the two regimes is related to the presence of a strong salinity gradient along density surfaces associated with the outflow of Mediterranean waters. Mesoscale eddies stir this gradient and produce a rich filamentation and salinity-compensated temperature inversions: isopycnal stirring and diapycnal mixing are both required to explain the T–S relation at depth.