It has been predicted that the Arctic Ocean will sequester much greater amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere as a result of sea ice melt and increasing primary productivity. However, this prediction was made on the basis of observations from either highly productive ocean margins or ice-covered basins before the recent major ice retreat. We report here a high-resolution survey of sea-surface CO2 concentration across the Canada Basin, showing a great increase relative to earlier observations. Rapid CO2 invasion from the atmosphere and low biological CO2 drawdown are the main causes for the higher CO2, which also acts as a barrier to further CO2 invasion. Contrary to the current view, we predict that the Arctic Ocean basin will not become a large atmospheric CO2 sink under ice-free conditions.