Shell chemistry of planktic foraminifera and the alkenone unsaturation index in 69 surface sediment samples in the tropical eastern Indian Ocean off West and South Indonesia were studied. Results were compared to modern hydrographic data in order to assess how modern environmental conditions are preserved in sedimentary record, and to determine the best possible proxies to reconstruct seasonality, thermal gradient and upper water column characteristics in this part of the world ocean. Our results imply that alkenone-derived temperatures record annual mean temperatures in the study area. However, this finding might be an artifact due to the temperature limitation of this proxy above 28°C. Combined study of shell stable oxygen isotope and Mg/Ca ratio of planktic foraminifera suggests that Globigerinoides ruber sensu stricto (s.s.), G. ruber sensu lato (s.l.), and G. sacculifer calcify within the mixed-layer between 20 m and 50 m, whereas Globigerina bulloides records mixed-layer conditions at ?50 m depth during boreal summer. Mean calcifications of Pulleniatina obliquiloculata, Neogloboquadrina dutertrei, and Globorotalia tumida occur at the top of the thermocline during boreal summer, at ?75 m, 75–100 m, and 100 m, respectively. Shell Mg/Ca ratios of all species show a significant correlation with temperature at their apparent calcification depths and validate the application of previously published temperature calibrations, except for G. tumida that requires a regional Mg/Ca-temperature calibration (Mg/Ca = 0.41 exp (0.068*T)). We show that the difference in Mg/Ca-temperatures of the mixed-layer species and the thermocline species, particularly between G. ruber s.s. (or s.l.) and P. obliquiloculata, can be applied to track changes in the upper water column stratification. Our results provide critical tools for reconstructing past changes in the hydrography of the study area and their relation to monsoon, El Niño-Southern Oscillation, and the Indian Ocean Dipole Mode.