Satellite passive-microwave data have been used to calculate sea-ice extents over the period 1979–99 for the north polar sea-ice cover as a whole and for each of nine regions. Over this 21 year time period, the trend in yearly-average ice extents for the ice cover as a whole is –32 900±6100 km2 a–1 (–2.7 ±0.5% per decade), indicating a statistically significant reduction in sea-ice coverage. Regionally, the reductions are greatest in the Arctic Ocean, the Kara and Barents Seas and the Seas of Okhotsk and Japan; and seasonally, the reductions are greatest in summer, for which season the 1979–99 trend in ice extents is –41600±12 900 km2 a–1 (–4.9±1.5% per decade). On a monthly basis, the reductions are greatest in July and September for the north polar ice cover as a whole, in September for the Arctic Ocean, in June and July for the Kara and Barents Seas, and in April for the Seas of Okhotsk and Japan. Of the nine regions, only the Bering Sea and the Gulf of St Lawrence show positive ice-extent trends on a yearly-average basis. However, the increases in these two regions are not statistically significant. For the north polar region as a whole, and for the Arctic Ocean, the Seas of Okhotsk and Japan, and Hudson Bay, the negative trends in the yearly averages are statistically significant at a 99% confidence level.