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Arctic sea ice plays a key role in the climate system, by acting as the interface between a warm ocean and a cold atmosphere. Establishing the true pattern of recent behavior of the sea ice in this region is critical to simulating the role of sea ice in future climate. Recently released operational ice charts from the U.S. National Ice Center provide insight into the late twentieth century behavior of Northern Hemisphere sea ice, providing more reliable ice concentrations during summer and freeze-up than those available from the passive microwave record. The major winter and summer modes of ice concentration variability observed from empirical orthogonal function analysis covering the period 1972–1994 are shown to indicate, respectively, the 1-year lagged response of the sea ice to the North Atlantic Oscillation and the winter preconditioning of summer sea ice coverage in the eastern Arctic by the North Atlantic Oscillation. Feedback to the atmosphere is suggested in each case by zero-lag cyclone frequency relationships to these two sea ice modes of variability.