A quantitative PCR assay for the SAR11 clade of marine Alphaproteobacteria was applied to nucleic acids extracted from monthly depth profiles sampled over a 3-year period (2004-2007) at the open-ocean Station ALOHA (A Long-term Oligotrophic Habitat Assessment; 22°45′N, 158°00′W) in the oligotrophic North Pacific Ocean. This analysis revealed a high contribution (averaging 36% of 16S rRNA gene copies) of SAR11 to the total detected 16S rRNA gene copies over depths ranging from the surface layer to 4000 m, and revealed consistent spatial and temporal variation in the relative abundance of SAR11 16S rRNA gene copies. On average, a higher proportion of SAR11 rRNA gene copies were detected in the photic zone (< 175 m depth; mean = 38%) compared with aphotic (> 175 m depth; mean = 30%), and in the winter months compared with the summer (mean = 44% versus 33%, integrated over 175 m depth). Partial least square to latent structure projections identified environmental variables that correlate with variation in the absolute abundance of SAR11, and provided tools for developing a predictive model to explain time and depth-dependent variations in SAR11. Moreover, this information was used to hindcast temporal dynamics of the SAR11 clade between 1997 and 2006 using the existing HOT data set, which suggested that interannual variations in upper ocean SAR11 abundances were related to ocean-climate variability such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation.