EGU2020-8213, updated on 12 Jun 2020
EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Soil formation and biological soil crust development in glacier forelands of Svalbard (High Arctic)

Philipp Gries1,2, Karsten Schmidt3, Peter Kühn1,2, Joachim Eberle2, Steffen Seitz2, Thomas Scholten1,2, Michał Węgrzyn4, and Paulina Wietrzyk-Pełka4
Philipp Gries et al.
  • 1SFB 1070 RESOURCECULTURES, University of Tübingen, 72074 Tübingen, Germany (
  • 2Department of Geosciences, Chair of Soil Science and Geomorphology, University of Tübingen, 72070 Tübingen, Germany
  • 3eScience-Center, University of Tübingen, 72074 Tübingen, Germany
  • 4Professor Z. Czeppe Department of Polar Research and Documentation, Institute of Botany, Faculty of Biology, Jagiellonian University, 30-387 Kraków, Poland

Over the last decades, a progressive glacier melting has been detected induced by climate change which cause a rapid enlargement of ice-free areas in glacier forelands in Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine regions. These recently deglaciated areas represent highly dynamic environments in terms of vegetation development and soil formation. Tundra plant communities of glacier forelands mainly consist of cryptogamic species forming biological soil crusts (BSCs) on the surface. These BSCs are known to promote the accumulation of aeolian particles and organic material being relevant to soil formation. It is important to understand both BSC development and soil formation in glacier forelands as fundamental to future development of mature tundra which contributes to an increase in soil organic carbon (SOC) and nitrogen (N) stocks in soil. The heterogeneous terrain of glacier forelands affects the spatial variation in both soil and vegetation characteristics which are additionally influenced by the distance to the glacier terminus. This study focuses on the spatial variation in soil and BSC characteristics in Arctic glacier forelands of Svalbard using multi-scale contextual soil mapping (CSM) and Euclidean distance fields (EDF). The data set comprises of soil (SOC, N, texture) and BSC characteristics (species composition, percent cover) from 168 sampling locations as well as terrain covariates (elevation, slope, aspect, curvature) at several scales using CSM and spatial covariates (EDF). Random forests (RF) are used to analyse the relationships between the covariates and soil and BSC characteristics, respectively.

Preliminary results show a good quality of the RF models (R²/RMSE) which is similar for SOC (0.41/6.19) and N (0.44/0.22). Elevation, curvature and slope at large scales are the most important covariates to explain the spatial variation in SOC and N. On large scales, these covariates represent the distance to the glacier terminus and generally explain the increase in SOC and N with increasing distance from the glacier terminus.  Additionally, elevation at small scales represents relevant issues of predominant geomorphologic features signature (e.g. moraine topography) to soil formation and BSC development. Analyses of the spatial variation and interrelationships of soil and BSC characteristics are still ongoing and further results will be presented at EGU 2020.

How to cite: Gries, P., Schmidt, K., Kühn, P., Eberle, J., Seitz, S., Scholten, T., Węgrzyn, M., and Wietrzyk-Pełka, P.: Soil formation and biological soil crust development in glacier forelands of Svalbard (High Arctic), EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-8213,, 2020


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