Four retrogressive thaw slumps (RTS) located on Herschel Island and the Yukon coast (King Point) in the western Canadian Arctic were investigated to compare the environmental, sedimentological and geochemical setting and characteristics of zones in active and stabilised slumps and at undisturbed sites. In general, the slope, sedimentology and biogeochemistry of stabilised and undisturbed zones differ, independent of their age or location. Organic carbon contents were lower in slumps than in the surrounding tundra, and the density and compaction of slump sediments were much greater. Radiocarbon dating showed that RTS were likely to have been active around 300 a BP and are undergoing a similar period of increased activity now. This cycle is thought to be controlled more by local geometry, cryostratigraphy and the rate of coastal erosion than by variation in summer temperatures. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.