The retreat of Arctic sea ice in recent decades is a pre-eminent signal of climate change. What role has the atmospheric circulation played in driving the sea ice decline? To address this question, we document the evolution of Arctic sea ice concentration trends during the period January 1979–April 2007 in light of changing atmospheric circulation conditions, in particular an upward trend in the wintertime Northern Annular Mode during the first half of the record and a downward trend during the second half. The results indicate that concurrent atmospheric circulation trends contribute to forcing winter and summer sea ice concentration trends in many parts of the marginal ice zone during both periods. However, there is also an emerging signal of overall Arctic sea ice decline since 1979 in both winter and summer that is not directly attributable to a trend in the overlying atmospheric circulation.