Recent rapid Arctic sea-ice reduction has been well documented in observations, reconstructions and model simulations. However, the rate of sea ice loss is highly variable in both time and space. The western Arctic has seen the fastest sea-ice decline, with substantial interannual and decadal variability, but the underlying mechanism remains unclear. Here we demonstrate, through both observations and model simulations, that the Pacific North American (PNA) pattern is an important driver of western Arctic sea-ice variability, accounting for more than 25% of the interannual variance. Our results suggest that the recent persistent positive PNA pattern has led to increased heat and moisture fluxes from local processes and from advection of North Pacific airmasses into the western Arctic. These changes have increased lower-tropospheric temperature, humidity and downwelling longwave radiation in the western Arctic, accelerating sea-ice decline. Our results indicate that the PNA pattern is important for projections of Arctic climate changes, and that greenhouse warming and the resultant persistent positive PNA trend is likely to increase Arctic sea-ice loss.