• sea ice extent;
  • multidecadal variability;
  • climate change

[1] Historical ice observations in the Nordic Seas from April through August are used to construct time series of ice edge position anomalies spanning the period 1750–2002. While analysis showed that interannual variability remained almost constant throughout this period, evidence was found of oscillations in ice cover with periods of about 60 to 80 years and 20 to 30 years, superimposed on a continuous negative trend. The lower frequency oscillations are more prominent in the Greenland Sea, while higher frequency oscillations are dominant in the Barents. The analysis suggests that the recent well-documented retreat of ice cover can partly be attributed to a manifestation of the positive phase of the 60–80 year variability, associated with the warming of the subpolar North Atlantic and the Arctic. The continuous retreat of ice edge position observed since the second half of the 19th century may be a recovery after significant cooling in the study area that occurred as early as the second half of the 18th century.