The Arctic has undergone substantial changes over the last few decades in various cryospheric and derivative systems and processes. Of these, the Arctic sea ice regime has seen some of the most rapid change and is one of the most visible markers of Arctic change outside the scientific community. This has drawn considerable attention not only from the natural sciences, but increasingly, from the political and commercial sectors as they begin to grapple with the problems and opportunities that are being presented. The possible impacts of past and projected changes in Arctic sea ice, especially as it relates to climatic response, are of particular interest and have been the subject of increasing research activity. A review of the current knowledge of the role of sea ice in the climate system is therefore timely. We present a review that examines both the current state of understanding, as regards the impacts of sea-ice loss observed to date, and climate model projections, to highlight hypothesised future changes and impacts on storm tracks and the North Atlantic Oscillation. Within the broad climate-system perspective, the topics of storminess and large-scale variability will be specifically considered. We then consider larger-scale impacts on the climatic system by reviewing studies that have focused on the interaction between sea-ice extent and the North Atlantic Oscillation. Finally, an overview of the representation of these topics in the literature in the context of IPCC climate projections is presented. While most agree on the direction of Arctic sea-ice change, the rates amongst the various projections vary greatly. Similarly, the response of storm tracks and climate variability are uncertain, exacerbated possibly by the influence of other factors. A variety of scientific papers on the relationship between sea-ice changes and atmospheric variability have brought to light important aspects of this complex topic. Examples are an overall reduction in the number of Arctic winter storms, a northward shift of mid-latitude winter storms in the Pacific and a delayed negative NAO-like response in autumn/winter to a reduced Arctic sea-ice cover (at least in some months). This review paper discusses this research and the disagreements, bringing about a fresh perspective on this issue.
► Observed decrease in sea-ice extent is faster than predicted. ► September sea ice reaching record low in recent years. ► Reduction in the number of Arctic winter storms. ► Northward shift of midlatitude storms and uncertainty over changes in intensity. ► Most models simulate a negative NAO response when forced with less Arctic sea-ice.