Six years of high-resolution hydrographic data from the eastern and northwestern sides of South Georgia (southwest Atlantic) are used to study the changing circulation and water mass properties of the region. One year of data from these locations was used previously to describe the oceanographic conditions at those times; using the much greater volume of data now available, we identify which features appear temporally robust and which are transient, and begin addressing topics relating to the forcing of the inter-annual variability and the potential consequences for the local ecosystem. Waters on the shelf and those over the adjacent deep ocean invariably have different hydrographic properties, though the transition between them can be abrupt or gradual. The onshelf/offshelf differences vary greatly from year to year, due to the combined influences of local and remote processes. There are several instances of strong physical coupling between the eastern and northwestern sides of South Georgia; this offers potential for distinguishing physically-induced ecosystems changes separately from biologically-induced ecosystems changes. On the northeast side of the shelf, close to Cumberland Bay, there is evidence of an often intense, but variable, cyclonic circulation that is the result of interaction with the local bathymetry. This may act as a retention mechanism, and enhance local productivity. Two examples of extreme cold anomalies are present in the series of measurements. One of these (in 2000/2001) affected a limited area at the eastern side of the region surveyed and was due to an intrusion of the Southern Antarctic Circumpolar Current Front. The other (in early 1998) was due to the combined effects of the passage of a large-scale ocean anomaly that had its origins upstream in the Pacific Ocean, and strong air/sea interaction. Both of these were associated with the strong 1997/1998 El Niño event. Whilst previous studies have observed a link between El Niño forcing and ocean response around South Georgia with a temporal lag of around 3 years, we observe a much more rapid response to the extremely strong 1997/1998 El Niño event. This indicates that the ocean and ecosystem around South Georgia are more immediately susceptible to extreme instances of remote climatic forcing than had been supposed.