The rapid decline in Arctic sea ice (ASI) extent, area and volume during recent decades is occurring before we can understand many of the mechanisms through which ASI interacts with biological processes both at sea and on land. As a consequence, our ability to predict and manage the effects of this enormous environmental change is limited, making this a crisis discipline. Here, we propose a framework to study these effects, defining direct effects as those acting on life-history events of Arctic biota, and indirect effects, where ASI acts upon biological systems through chains of events, normally involving other components of the physical system and/or biotic interactions. Given the breadth and complexity of ASI’s effects on Arctic biota, Arctic research requires a truly multidisciplinary approach to address this issue. In the absence of effective global efforts to tackle anthropogenic global warming, ASI will likely continue to decrease, compromising the conservation of many ASI-related taxonomic groups and ecosystems. Mitigation actions will rely heavily on the knowledge acquired on the mechanisms and components involved with the biological effects of ASI.