• sea ice;
  • arctic;
  • climate change

[1] While the summer perennial Arctic sea ice has declined markedly in recent decades, the maximum extent of the winter ice cover had decreased only slightly, until the past few years when it also receded dramatically. This investigation reveals that the timing of maximum extent varies greatly, and the drivers of ice-edge location differ strikingly between two of the areas where it varies most: the Bering and Barents Seas. Between 1979 and 2005 in the Bering Sea, the ice edge is influenced mainly by anomalies in easterly winds associated with the Aleutian Low, which was particularly strong during the 1980s. The Barents Sea ice edge, in contrast, is driven primarily by two factors: anomalies in sea-surface temperature, particularly close in time to the maximum extent, and by southerly wind (from the south) anomalies integrated back to mid- and early winter. The hemispheric-mean decline in winter ice extent is due in large part to increasing sea-surface temperatures in the Barents Sea and adjoining waters, which are consistent with increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.