Polar Biology

, Volume 41, Issue 8, pp 1587–1605 | Cite as

The importance of understanding annual and shorter-term temperature patterns and variation in the surface levels of polar soils for terrestrial biota

  • P. Convey
  • S. J. Coulson
  • M. R. Worland
  • A. Sjöblom
Original Paper


Ground temperatures in the top few centimetres of the soil profile are key in many biological processes yet remain very poorly documented, especially in the polar regions or over longer timescales. They can vary greatly seasonally and at various spatial scales across the often highly complex and heterogeneous polar landscapes. It is challenging and often impossible to extrapolate soil profile temperatures from meteorological air temperature records. Furthermore, despite the justifiably considerable profile given to contemporary large-scale climate change trends, with the exception of some sites on Greenland, few biological microclimate datasets exist that are of sufficient duration to allow robust linkage and comparison with these large-scale trends. However, it is also clear that the responses of the soil-associated biota of the polar regions to projected climate change cannot be adequately understood without improved knowledge of how landscape heterogeneity affects ground and sub-surface biological microclimates, and of descriptions of these microclimates and their patterns and trends at biologically relevant physical and temporal scales. To stimulate research and discussion in this field, we provide an overview of multi-annual temperature records from 20 High Arctic (Svalbard) and maritime Antarctic (Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia Arc) sites. We highlight important features in the datasets that are likely to have influence on biology in polar terrestrial ecosystems, including (a) summer ground and sub-surface temperatures vary much more than air temperatures; (b) winter ground temperatures are generally uncoupled from air temperatures; (c) the ground thawing period may be considerably shorter than that of positive air temperatures; (d) ground and air freeze–thaw patterns differ seasonally between Arctic and Antarctic; (e) rates of ground temperature change are generally low; (f) accumulated thermal sum in the ground usually greatly exceeds air cumulative degree days. The primary purpose of this article is to highlight the utility and biological relevance of such data, and to this end the full datasets are provided here to enable further analyses by the research community, and incorporation in future wider comparative studies.


Terrestrial invertebrates Plants Microbiota Arctic Antarctic Energy exchange 



We thank students taking UNIS course AB:201 Arctic Terrestrial Biology and Erlend Lorentzen (Norwegian Polar Institute) for assistance in setting out and/or recovering loggers, and the Kinnvika International Polar Year project for access and logistics to Nordaustlandet. Image of Mars Oasis (Online Resource 2) kindly provided by Kevin Newsham (British Antarctic Survey). Paul Geissler, Alison Massey and Kevin Newsham are gratefully acknowledged for the long-term maintenance and management of the Antarctic stations described. Figure 1 was kindly drawn by Oliva Martin-Sanchez (Mapping and Geographic Information Centre, British Antarctic Survey). Project work in Barentsburg was funded as part of the AVIFauna project (Norwegian Research Council 6172/S30). PC and MRW were supported by core funding from NERC to the BAS ‘Ecosystems’ and ‘Biodiversity, Evolution and Adaptation’ Programmes. This paper also contributes to the SCAR AnT-ERA and AntEco programmes. We thank the Norwegian Meteorological Institute ( and the CLEOPATRA project for access to air temperature data, and two anonymous referees and the issue Editor for helpful comments.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.British Antarctic Survey, NERC, High CrossCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Department of Arctic BiologyUniversity Centre in SvalbardLongyearbyenNorway
  3. 3.ArtDatabanken, The Swedish Species Information CentreSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUppsalaSweden
  4. 4.Department of Earth SciencesUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden

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