The North Atlantic is a substantial sink for anthropogenic CO2. Understanding the mechanisms driving the sink’s variability is key to assessing its current state and predicting its potential response to global climate change. Here we apply a time series decomposition technique to satellite and in situ data to examine separately the factors (both biological and non-biological) that affect the sea-air CO2 difference (ΔpCO2) on seasonal and interannual timescales. We demonstrate that, on seasonal timescales, the subpolar North Atlantic ΔpCO2 signal is predominantly correlated with biological processes, whereas seawater temperature dominates in the subtropics. However, the same factors do not necessarily control ΔpCO2 on interannual timescales. Our results imply that the mechanisms driving seasonal variability in ΔpCO2 cannot necessarily be extrapolated to predict how ΔpCO2, and thus the North Atlantic CO2 sink, may respond to increases in anthropogenic CO2 over longer timescales.